“Atonement,” review by Susan Granger

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Literary adaptations abound this season but few have been as highly anticipated as the cinematic interpretation of Ian McEwan’s best-seller by screenwriter Christopher Hampton (“Dangerous Liaisons”) and director Joe Wright (“Pride and Prejudice”).

Although the chronology is scrambled as the perspectives shift, the basic story revolves around an incident that takes place at the Tallis country estate in rural southeast England on a sultry summer day back in 1935, when naïve 13 year-old Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) sees her glamorous older sister, Cecilia (Keira Knightley), with Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), the son of their housekeeper (Brenda Blethlyn).

Imaginative and impetuous, Briony tells a lie which results in Robbie being sent to prison for sexual assault. The rest of the narrative examines the cultural and emotional consequences of that fabrication – from war-ravaged London, where 18 year-old Briony (Romola Garai) seeks redemption as a nurse, and Robbie serves with the British forces in northern France to decades later, as an elderly Briony (Vanessa Redgrave) explains her contrition to a television interviewer (director Anthony Mingella).

Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography is cleverly evocative, particularly during the massive 1940 Dunkirk evacuation, when the camera lingers on a Ferris wheel turning idly, a man exercising on a pommel horse, the slaughtering of horses for food, and exhausted soldiers singing hymns on a bandstand. But there’s an aura of artificiality and a lack of sexual chemistry between Knightley and McAvoy, as the wronged lovers, that results in emotional sterility. It’s as if everything is too self-consciously dramatized and emphasized by Dario Marianelli’s score. Indeed, nothing feels ‘real’ until Vanessa Redgrave’s surprising concluding twist.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Atonement” is an admirable 8 – but the great epic drama seems to have lost its heart somewhere along the way.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.

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