A third of the way through Atonement, I was figuring out how I was going to make room for it in my top five. But as Robbie went, so went the movie. And instead of praising one of the year’s best movies, I’m here to try and figure out what went wrong. I’m not a fan at all of how the movie was broken into three distinct parts, jumping years into the future each time (as a side note, I’ll mention it later, but I felt There Will Be Blood suffered similarly). I appreciate how it gave a jarring feel to the movie, but those gains were more than offset by the storytelling problems it created.

“Jarring” is a good word to describe several aspects of the movie, it is some sort of motif, if you will. Not really sure anyone could watch the first ten minutes of the movie and see the rape of a girl in the future. Briony peeling back the bandages of that one soldier only to find a good chunk of his head missing. The jumps in time, as I mentioned. And the ending, especially. I haven’t read the book, and I’m going to assume the ending is the same there, but that doesn’t mean the filmmakers had to keep it. And (spoiler warning, as always) that Robbie and Cecilia both die, and we don’t find out after the fact, is incredibly jarring. That’s an incredibly unsatisfying ending, in my mind, in terms of how these movies usually end, but one that I thought suited the movie perfectly. I wouldn’t have changed a thing about that. Also, as a brief response to Brian, I didn’t have any problem buying the love between Robbie and Cecilia. Methinks Brian’s just not a romantic.

Part of me wonders if the reason I’m not higher on this movie is because I’m such a sucker for a love story or mystery set on a British manor, and thus bitter the movie had to move on to a broader scope. Still, the disjointed feel of the movie was a bold choice, but one that ultimately was a mistake. It makes the movie feel more distant. I don’t normally notice cinematography, but as most people will point out, that one tracking shot on the beach was pretty incredible. The nomination was deserved just for that. Similarly, I’m more than happy to leave scores to Brian, but I’d just like to submit that I found the score simply fantastic.

Saorise Ronan’s performance was critical to the movie, since pretty much everything hinged upon it. And she pulled it off rather impressively. Still, I’m not really sure that “special” is a word to describe it. I personally found the supporting actress category particularly weak this year, and wouldn’t have nominated most of them. So in that sense, I found Ronan’s performance top shelf, I suppose.

As might be clear, I’m not sold on the Atonement screenplay. Overall, it was relatively solid, and I think it stands up to most of the nominees. But this movie really deserved a better script. All the other aspects of it were pretty great, so a top tier script could have made this movie into something special, rather than one that doesn’t really scream to be remembered past this year.

Similarly, I don’t buy the Best Picture nod here. I have to assume it is the result of the success downballot voting can bring in the Oscars’ voting mechanism. I almost feel the movie was rewarded for what should have been rather than what actually was.

As a side note, I thought James McAvoy and Keira Knightley were solid. Of course, I’ll always swoon over Keira. I’m not sure they needed to get any nominations, but I could have supported Knightley in the supporting actress category.

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