Reminscent of a stuffy ivory chamber drama except with a much bigger budget, Ian McEwan's breathtaking novel of forbidden love, deceit, the growing pains of childhood and the power of art all set to the backdrop of WWII is brought to life by Joe Wright (of 2005's Pride and Prejudice fame) and his group of talented young actors in Keira Knightly, James McAvoy and Saoirse Ronan. What made the novel such a rapturous read was McEwan's exceptional story-telling ability, the rich detail and his firm grasp of the English language that took on a classic poeticsm so rare in contemporary literature. Wright's film is an earnest adaptation that is faithful to the text only it feels slightly hollow containing only the main plot points of the book abandoning McEwan's elegant literary craftsmanship. While the film posesses moments of cinematic beauty and impressive direction including a sweeping long-take lasting several minutes during the evacuation of soliders stationed at Dunkirk, much of the stylistic flourishes become redundant and come across as filler due to the lack of a strong narrative.
It would be too easy to label this film as "Oscar bait" and even though it is bound to be clumped into that infamous category, part of me believes that there are enough positive aspects that prevent such placement. The acting all around remains the saving grace here with Knightly giving the peformance of her career and James McAvoy stealing every scene whom is bound to be nominated this year. Even newcomer Saoirse Ronan does excellent work as the precocious young Briony who is the integral figure of the story who sets the traumatic events in motion. Her chracter's wide-eyed innocence and curiousity in which she doesn't fully comprehend the adult world is portrayed with great maturity for an actor so young. The low-ley transient score by Dario Marianelli compliments the tone of the film perfectly and creatively implementing the sound of the type-writer keys was a nice touch. Finally, there's Joe Wright who has clearly established himself as a director in control of his vision and actors. Atonement being his sophmore effort, Wright shows tremendous talent as a budding director and he's one to keep an eye on in the future. The tackling of such a complex piece of literarture would be a daunting task for anyone and even though he is only marginally successful, one must applaud his efforts.