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In England in 1935, Briony, an imaginative and impetuous teenage girl, spies her older sister Cecilia in an erotic embrace with Robbie, the dashing son of one of their estate's servants. Briony's jealousy then drives her to tell an explosive lie which changes the course of their lives forever on the eve of World War II.
For more about Atonement and the Atonement Blu-ray release, see Atonement Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on January 19, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Joe Wright
Writer: Christopher Hampton
Starring: James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan, Vanessa Redgrave, Romola Garai, Patrick Kennedy
» See full cast & crew
Atonement Blu-ray Review
Wright's gorgeous film may suffer from a bum ending, but its AV presentation soars....
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, January 19, 2010
Seamus McGarvey's sumptuous cinematography, Dario Marianelli's unforgettable score, director Joe Wright's highly anticipated followup to Pride & Prejudice, Christopher Hampton's sharp adaptation of Ian McEwan's celebrated novel, a haunting tale of love and woe, an exceptionally talented young cast, critical acclaim, rampant hype, countless nominations, a heap of awards, a coveted Oscar, golden statue after golden statue... how could a film like Atonement possibly disappoint? Having never seen it until now, it's a question I didn't expect to be asking; a question an absorbing, evocative period piece should never require its audience to ask. The answer? With a jarring shock to the senses that hits just eight minutes before Wright's credits roll. An unnecessary send-off if there ever was one, it abruptly unravels everything that's come before it, attempting but ultimately failing to redefine 106 minutes of heart-aching, cinematic bliss. It is without a doubt one of the more divisive, controversial endings to cap an Academy favorite. And while it will certainly continue to speak to some -- it does have narrative merit -- it will leave others with the overwhelming desire to hit eject and erase its botched endgame from their minds.
The story opens in 1935 as an aspiring thirteen-year-old writer named Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) develops a distaste for her housekeeper's son Robbie (James McAvoy), a Cambridge graduate working for her father over the summer. But when she reads a vulgar letter Robbie asks her to deliver to her sister Cecilia (Kiera Knightley), her distaste mixes with anger, fear, suspicion, and hate. It gets even worse when she catches the pair in a compromising position and assumes Robbie is forcing himself on Cecilia. A short time later, Briony becomes convinced that a mysterious assailant who raped her teenage cousin (Juno Temple) must have been Robbie. The befuddled young man is arrested, imprisoned and, to Briony's delight, separated from her sister. We're suddenly thrust into a war-torn France at the height of World War II. Released to join the British army and fight the advancing German forces, Robbie spends his nights pining for Cecilia. She does the same. As we come to find out, the two have already rekindled their relationship some time ago and have been seeing each other whenever the opportunity presents itself. Flashbacks provide key pieces to the puzzle, and everything from the identity of Lola's attacker, Briony's motivations, Cecilia's divorce from her family, and Robbie's experiences in war are revealed. Misunderstanding, dishonesty, and skewed perceptions are introduced as the true villains of the tale, and Wright steadily begins preparing the stage for a staggering reunion between Cecilia, Robbie, and Briony (Romola Garai), now a nurse stationed in London.
Did my negative response to the film's ending negate my love of its more traditional acts? Oddly enough, no. Atonement presents the aftermath of war and the devastating isolation of WWII soldiers more effectively than any other film in recent memory. We're rarely given the opportunity to see death itself, only the corpses, flame and smoke it leaves in its wake. The horrors of battle are merely glimpsed; it's the souls affected by such traumatic events that hold Wright's attention. In like fashion, Atonement captures the pure essence of romance, longing, and loneliness, focusing on Robbie and Cecilia's unbreakable bond more than their painfully brief, oh-so-tainted encounters. Their embraces consist of intertwined fingers, clasping hands, parting lips; impassioned reactions to unseen ecstasy. Their reunions exude palpable intensity and yearning, and Knightley and McAvoy respond in kind, sacrificing their all to the characters with refined, sophisticated performances. I usually brace myself for the worst when directors resort to genre conventions, but had Wright thrown out McEwan's closer and tied up the story in a more customary manner, I would be writing an entirely different review; one in which I was entranced by Wright's ability to find beauty in every shot, McGarvey's breathtaking photography, Marianelli's astounding music... anything other than its bait-n-switch third act.
Even if Hampton or Wright had brought Robbie and Cecilia's relationship to a worthwhile conclusion before dropping McEwan's A-bomb, the seemingly tacked-on game-changer would have been far less abrasive, not to mention more satisfying. However, as is, the doe-eyed romantics are left in a state of ambiguous limbo while the the filmmakers embrace some considerably mean-spirited sleight of hand. More distracting is the fact that it inadvertently calls everything we've learned, not just what it purports to alter, into question. Granted, it's more than possible I'll warm up to it all upon further viewings -- as I said before, it isn't a pointless ending, nor is it emotionally inert or thematically irrelevant -- but, for now, I'm still reeling from the sting of a sucker punch. That being said, Atonement is worth watching. Sorry to continually (and hypocritically) serve up my own 180s mid-review, but the film simply has too much to offer, too much heart and soul, to write it off because eight minutes may or may not leave you in a foul mood. As dumbfounded as I was after the credits rolled, I have every intention of plowing through it all again, if for no other reason than to see if my second reaction is harsher or more forgiving than my first. Discount the hype and ignore the rack of awards it's collected; Atonement is not the sort of film anyone should buy blindly. Rent it, soak it in, and decide from there. Regardless of how you feel in the end (literally), you're in for a memorable experience.
Atonement Blu-ray, Video Quality
Both achingly filmic and incredibly faithful to its source, Atonement's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is nothing short of beautiful. Every texture, every detail has been preserved, and edge enhancement and ringing are nowhere to be found. Everything from the second act's blood-stained uniforms, tattered bandages, and plumes of smoke to the first act's fire-lit chambers, fog-swept gardens, and sun-bathed fields are dazzling. Yes, visibility is a bit low in McGarvey's darkest shots, and yes, his hazy, dreamlike cinematography occasionally invites piercing light to flood the image, but crush, noise and other anomalies remain at bay. More importantly, his palette has been perfectly reproduced, granting Wright's lush fields and cold hospital halls equal parts boldness and brilliance. Blacks are deep and natural, skintones are lifelike, and primaries surge, all in service of the director's vision, all in response to his every intention. Instances of softness, rare as they are, can be attributed to the original print; each speck of grain, consistent and unobtrusive as it is, lends value and legitimacy to the presentation. And Universal's technical efforts? Artifacting, aliasing, smearing, DNR and other nonsense are either kept to a minimum or absent from the proceedings altogether. Think what you will of the film's ending, the studio's transfer is truly a sight to behold.
Atonement Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Dat... dat... dat... dat... dat... dat-dat-dat-dat. So thunders Briony's typewriter as Atonement's hushed but arresting DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track first makes itself known. While it isn't the most aggressive mix I've had the opportunity to review of late, it's nevertheless an exceedingly effective one, freeing the nimble piano runs and tepid string strums of Dario Marianelli's masterful, Oscar-winning score in every channel. Wright's period piece is largely a front-heavy affair, dominated by whispered admissions and restrained conversations, but that's not to say the rear speakers remain quiet. Along with the absorbing music and rhythmic chatter of typewriters, a steady stream of convincing acoustics, nuanced ambience, and precise directional effects heighten the experience. Note the subtle echo of interior voices, the singsong call of distant birds, the rustle of trees, the chick-chack of Robbie's footsteps on a stone path, the gravely crinch-cratch as he shuffles past a collapsed building. LFE output is no slouch either. Though the film doesn't have the explosiveness of a more traditional genre pic, it meticulously massages Marianelli's compositions, makes McAvoy's battlefield encounters more haunting, and adds believable weight to everything from toppling rubble to the harshest French winds. Through it all, dialogue remains clear and compelling, and prioritization (save a few mishaps, all of which are arguably intentional) is spot on. As it stands, anyone who insists Atonement doesn't deliver an engrossing soundfield should seriously consider upgrading their audio gear.
Atonement Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Sadly, the Blu-ray edition of Atonement offers the same supplemental package as its DVD counterpart, standard definition video and all. New content, particularly of the Picture-in-Picture variety, would have certainly helped, but there isn't any to be found. As it stands, Director Joe Wright's audio commentary is the only feature that adds substantial value to the release.
Atonement Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Atonement is a resonant period romance, a powerful study of longing and regret, and a startling tale of misperception and misunderstanding... at least for 106 minutes. The eight minutes that follow will either hold your attention or leave you enraged. Three guesses as to how well its ending sat with me. Luckily, Universal's Blu-ray release isn't as divisive. Even though its supplemental package desperately needs more content and punch, its video transfer is nearly impeccable and its DTS-HD Master Audio track is faithful and immersive. I wouldn't recommend buying this one without seeing the film first, but anyone who appreciates everything Wright has to offer will be mesmerized by the results.
Atonement: Other Editions
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Atonement Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Universal Details Atonement Blu-ray - November 6, 2009
Following up on our announcement yesterday, Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced the technical specs and special features for the upcoming Blu-ray release of 'Atonement', which is scheduled to hit store shelves on January 26th. Coming on a BD-50, ...
• Universal Does Atonement for Blu-ray - November 5, 2009
In an early announcement to retailers, it has been revealed that Universal Studios Home Entertainment will release 'Atonement' on Blu-ray on January 26, 2010. No disc details are available at the moment. 'Atonement' is a drama set in pre-WWII Britain, based on ...
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