Monday, January 7, 2008

Film School Reject -- Atonement

We went to see Atonement Sunday night. I had some real problems with this film, mainly the directing.

The film uses every cliche' movie shot I know of -- ultra-tight closeups; backlit characters; long, uncut, tracking steadycam shot; overhead lighting coming on sequentially towards the camera as a character slowly walks towards the camera; idyllic 30's leisure-time shot; horrific wounds; the list goes on and on.

On top of the overblown film-making, the screenplay is unrelentingly depressing. Nothing good ever happens to anyone -- even the love scene is furtive, guilt-ridden, and aborted. There are some scenes with real cognitive dissonance, like 30 dead French schoolgirls. We assume they were killed by Nazis, but the only soldiers we see are British and French. The girls are also either very recently dead, or imaginary, because there weren't any insects or other scavengers on the bodies. Another one: Keira Knightly takes the families most valuable possesion, a vase, outside to the fountain to get some water for flowers. WHAT THE EFF! The most valualble object the family owns is a vase? They live in a mansion! She's going to use the vase for flowers? I'd keep it locked up, if it was that valuable. Very weird, but, don't you know, key to the plot.

Atonement in some ways reminds me of Barry Lyndon, a Kubrick movie from 1975 that was gorgeously filmed, but devoid of plot, over-reaching, long and boring. Atonement is pretty in it's own way, but ultimately unfulfilling. The timeline is also bizarre, there are numerouse flash-backs, flash-forwards, and (to quote Funny Farm) I think there was a flash-sideways in there somewhere. The jumps aren't necessary to advance the (simple) plot, they seem to have no purpose other than "film-making".

All through the movie one word kept screaming out at me: pretentious. The movie is just a pretentious pile of fluff, trying to be grown-up. Keira Knightly, Vanessa Redgrave, and the other actors do a fine job with what they are given, but it's not enough to rescue the movie from the weight of it's own self-importance.


Movies on Whidbey Island.

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