Atonement – DVD Review

Atonement DVD cover
Available at Amazon.com

Coming seemingly out of nowhere, Atonement was a film that generated momentum from the Golden Globes and seemingly had the inside track for a plethora of Oscars for a brief period of time. Nominated for seven but only winning one, for Best Original Score, Atonement had the same sort of hype that Dreamgirls did a year ago but ultimately the Academy saw through it both times.

Following the tale of Briony (Saoirse Ronan as a 13 year old, Romola Garai at 18 and Vanessa Redgrave as a senior citizen) and Cecilia (Keira Knightley) Tallis as they come of age in war torn England, the film follows them from the horrible deed 13-year-old Briony witnessed and eventually lied about. Following before the deed, as well as the events that it caused, Atonement is really a tragic period piece more than anything else.

The thing that stands out the most about the film is just how beautiful it looks. Joe Wright, who directed 2005’s Pride & Prejudice, is no stranger to crafting a beautiful film and it shows in this film as there are plenty of terrific moments and scenes in it. This is a film of markedly good camera shots and angles, of wide angle lenses and a perfectly nuanced score, and Wright’s film-making prowess is fully on display. He has a definite story to tell and in many ways Atonement is an improvement on the masterpiece that marked his debut film. It’s a big epic story told over a big epic time, but unfortunately it’s not as engaging as his prior work.

Atonement suffers because the film’s script isn’t nearly as tight as the film’s direction. The first act runs a bit long, getting to the horrible deed with a slowness that takes away from the film’s climatic finale. The film moves slowly to get there and then compresses its final two acts to compensate for it. By all rights this could’ve been a 150 minute epic, with a bigger middle, but in the end it remains top heavy.

That doesn’t mean it’s not a good film; it is, actually a very good one at that. It’s just not the masterpiece it could’ve been.

Presented in a widescreen format with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, as well as Dolby Digital sound, the film has an impressive audio/visual transfer. This is a film that was nominated for an Academy Award due to its cinematography and it shows. The film’s colors are gorgeous and the audio uses the system wonderfully.

Deleted Scenes are included, not adding much back into the finished product.

Bringing the past to life: The making of Atonement is an extended piece about the film’s production. Running around 26 minutes, it’s an interesting and deep look at the film’s making.

From Novel to Screen: Adapting a Classic focuses on the film’s screenplay and shows how Hampton took McEwan’s novel and adapted it. Long viewed as the most cinematic of his works, it’s interesting to see the screenwriter and the novelist discussing the book and how it all came together.

Translating a successful novel into a success film is a difficult task, but Joe Wright has done it before with one of the most celebrated love stories of all time and does it again with another.

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Universal Studios presents Atonement. Directed by Joe Wright. Starring Vanessa Redgrave, Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan. Written by Christopher Hampton based on the novel by Ian McEwan. Running time: 118 minutes. Rated R for disturbing war images, language and some sexuality. Released on DVD: March 18, 2008. Available at Amazon.com