I haven’t read Ian McEwan’s Atonement but I might now. What the movie does so well is to represent what I can only assume are the narrative concerns of the book – the multiple points of view and the choices an author makes to “tell the truth”. The first half of the movie is set in a massive English country estate on a sweltering hot summer’s day. There is visual emphasis on the polished dark wood surfaces, flowery wallpaper, clocks ticking, sunlight in shafts, and the palpable weight of time passing slowly. Children lie around trying to amuse themselves without the aid of DVD’s or video games. A little girl writes a play to occupy herself. Outside the trees bend with fruit, and weeds luxuriate. Multiple perspectives come into play, and parts of the movie are replayed from different characters’ points of view. I remember something similar from the old TV series Petrocelli , but this is entirely more rich and literary.
The second half of the movie involves war and those left behind. Everybody raves about the amazing tracking shot which opens Touch of Evil, rightly, but Atonement has the most spectacular continuous scene ever, set on the beach at Dunkirk as the soldiers are waiting to be picked up. There on the beach is all of humanity – ferris wheels, choirs, men shooting horses – heaven and hell, the good, the bad, and the ugly – all conveyed with an amazingly fluid walkthrough shot that leaves the viewer stunned.
Atonement is a richly rendered movie, worthy of all the praise it has been getting.