An example of if it ain't broke, don't fix it (or, in this case, if it got you an Oscar nomination, why not rinse and repeat?), "Atonement" (based upon the novel by Ian McEwan) once again sees Kiera Knightley ("Pirates of the Caribbean") paired with her "Pride and Prejudice" (which got 4 Oscar noms) director Joe Wright for another very period-y period piece.
Set in '30's Europe, the film focuses on 13-year old Briony (Saoirse Ronan, later played by Romola Garai), an aspiring writer who stands by as her sister begins to fall for a servant, Robbie (James McAvoy). Jealous of her sister as she has a crush on Robbie and under the belief that he isn't the right one for her, the young girl's underlying anger towards her older sister's new suitor begins to build. She sees a letter to her sister and activity between the two she doesn't yet understand.
When another girl is raped nearby, Briony claims that she saw Robbie do it. Shortly after, Robbie is taken away, and instead of having a record, he takes the option of going into the service and faces the horrors of battle in France. Years later, Cecilia (Knightley) meets up with Robbie again, and their attraction is still present. She also fully believes his innocence. In London, Cecila begins working as a nurse, and so does Briony, who - years later - has finally begun to realize the kind of damage she caused by her lie.
Wright's take on "Pride" was a soulful, poetic take on the tale with excellent performances and stellar visuals. While not without a few issues, it was overall a wonderful, touching film. "Atonement" is the director's follow up and he manages to get the period film down once again, and does so in a way that once again seems almost rather effortless. Surprisingly (given the material), the film's 123-minute running time moves reasonably quick.
However, the difference between "Atonement" and "Pride" is James McAvoy, who not only turns in a terrific performance, but has great chemistry with Knightley. "Pride", on the other hand, paired Knightley with Matthew MacFadyen, who just didn't have the same kind of chemistry with her. Also marvelous in this film is Ronan, who gives an award-worthy performance in her portrayal of a young woman who has lived her life in sorrow and regret for the terrible action she made as a child (at the end of the film, we see Briony -played as an old woman by Vanessa Redgrave - talking about being terminally ill, and how her last book details the tragedy and heartbreak she has faced - and caused.) The last moments of the film are deeply powerful and strike a note of genuine sorrow. This is already a strong period piece, but Wright manages to end it just perfectly. One of the year's best films.
VIDEO: "Atonement" is presented by Universal Home Entertainment is in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is an excellent transfer of the material, as the film's beautiful, classic cinematography from Seamus McGarvey is presented with terrific sharpness and detail. Despite the sort of soft, "period" look of the picture, the film still offered solid definition.
The picture did show some minor edge enhancement in a few scenes, but the film was otherwise largely free of artifacting and other concerns. Colors looked somewhat subdued, but appeared accurately presented. Black level remained solid, while flesh tones looked spot-on as well.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's audio, as one might expect from a drama like this, is largely forward-oriented. However, the scenes of battle in the latter half of the picture do use the surrounds at times to deliver some impressive effects, as well as some enjoyable background ambience. Audio quality was terrific, with crisp dialogue and effects that sounded clear and detailed.
EXTRAS: Commentary from director Joe Wright, "Bringing the Past to Life: The Making of Atonement", "From Novel to Screen: Adapting the Classic" and deleted scenes. The deleted scenes offer optional commentary from director Joe Wright.
Final Thoughts: Superbly acted, gorgeously filmed and quite haunting, I thought "Atonement" remained engaging throughout, even during a day when the last thing I wanted was a chick flick. The DVD presentation offers excellent audio/video quality, as well as some very nice extras. Recommended.
The Film A