Replay: Atonement

In Atonement, Hollywood found another vein of pretty, yellow gold to mine. Unfortunately, the demon execs aren't looking for anything of real value, just sparkly iron pyrite. The deeper meanings of Ian McEwan's novel are cast aside in favour of cheap melodrama.

The plot is simple, so as to aid in McEwan's complication of it; skewing reality into fiction and analysing the differences between, and consequences of, each. Imaginative, 13-year-old, wannabe novelist Briony is witness to what she sees as a perverse seduction of her older sister (Keira Knightley) by their housekeeper's son (James McAvoy) whom the young girl has a crush on. From their point of view, however, it is a burgeoning, lasting romance between childhood friends. Confused and crushed, Briony frames the former object of her affections for the paedophilic actions of another party, leading to him being jailed and sent off to fight in WWII. The plot then shifts in time to show the affects of her actions on all the characters.

Cinema should be a better medium for this, allowing greater ambiguity to Briony's misconceptions. However, so little imagination does the director have, that the film follows the novel too closely, exposing Briony as deluded and immediately casting her as a villain. At one point, a Knightley wardrobe malfunction is shown as distinctly more "adult" from the child's point of view, but this is the only faint glimmer of what could have been achieved.

The book uses the assets of the literature medium to go to interesting places with this, but the film aims squarely at melodrama, draining out every last drop of pathos to saccharine effect. This is a film so over-egged that, when our male protagonist receives a foot wash from his mother in the bombed out buildings of a pre-evacuation Dunkirk, she is shown in hazy DreamoVision (TM), just in case you didn't realise it was a hallucination.

McAvoy, as the housekeeper's son, is as astoundingly brilliant as ever, while Miss Knightley is also as expected - stunningly beautiful, repulsively thin and unable to act her way out of a paper bag, The director's method of emulating the period's clipped accent seems to be getting the cast to compete as to who can say their syllables the quickest. McAvoy just about makes this convincing, while Knightley sounds like she's on fast forward.

This is a film aimed squarely at sentimental Americans who think the English all live in castles on vast estates, sipping sherry and talking about how great it was when the yanks saved them in WWII. Wouldn't it be nice for Hollywood to take the best from a novel to adapt, rather than pillaging the trash and glossing over the point?

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