That Joe Wright has got an eye for a shot. They say once you recognise or notice what the director is doing, it snaps you out of the story and back into real life - the spell is broken - and that, for a film, is death. However, there are a few directors who can get away with it, and Wright is one of them. In his directorial debut Pride And Prejudice, he delivered a seemingly endless swooping shot during the ballroom scene, and here, during a scene on Dunkirk beach, Wright goes to town - and all you can do is sit there in awe, wishing it would never end. Adapting Ian McEwan's novel wasn't going to be the easiest job in the world, but Wright and writer Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liasons) have done a great job. Atonement kicks off in the run up to WWII, where 13-year-old budding playwright Briony (Ronan) witnesses the statutory rape of her cousin. Seeing Robbie (McAvoy) have sex with her sister Cecelia (Knightly), Briony, in a moment of childish spite, incriminates him, and Robbie is given a choice - jail, or the front line. Robbie opts for war and disappears from Cecelia's life. When Briony grows older, she begins to realise the extent of what she's done and tries to put things right. It doesn't sound like much, but Atonement is all about attention to detail, feeling like the most thoroughly thought-out film in history. Nothing is in there for the sake of it and everything is integrated into the story (even the click-click of the typewriter works its way into the score). The cast do what's asked of them: Knightley proves that Pride And Prejudice was no fluke and is even treated to a few iconic shots, reminiscent of classic '40 and '50s period dramas; McAvoy cements his reputation as one of the most promising actors around, while Ronan delivers a mature performance for one so young.
James McAvoy, Keira Knightly, Romola Garai, Saoirse Ronan.
118 mins / 15A
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