I was going to write this a couple of weeks ago - but I wanted to watch the movie a couple more times just to be sure..... As it turns out, Atonement is my favourite movie in MANY years. I personally can't think of a negative. Some people have commented (to me) that it was very slow moving. Nope! not for me. I thought the pacing was exactly right. In fact, had it moved along more quickly, I believe quite a lot of the important details would have been missed. The script is outstanding - I read the book some years ago and know that the writer (Ian McEwan, in case anyone doesn't know), as well as being one of the executive producers, "floated around" during the making of this movie to make observations and suggestions. I believe the production of this movie benefitted from that - he is truly a fantastic writer.
The cinematography is beautiful and, at some points in the story, is almost a cast member. (If that seems a strange thing to say - witness Robbie's hallucination of his mother at Dunkirk.) The musical score is terrific and does not swamp every scene but, when the music soars, it sets atmosphere as well as I have ever encountered in other movies, if not better.
I thought the casting was perfect. James McAvoy (Robbie) just takes one's breath away. As someone else said - he really is that good, and one can't say more than that. Keira Knightley certainly got a role she could sink her teeth into. Cecelia Tallis is intelligent, passionate, somewhat arrogant at times but, in the end, loving and compassionate. I truly liked this character, both when I read the book and in the movie. Saoirse Ronan was totally "right" for 13-year-old Briony, overindulged baby of the family, bit of a control freak, with only a child's understanding of what is going on in the adult world around her but a dangerous sense of self importance. Here there be dragons! We meet her again at 18, portrayed by Romola Garai - knowing now what she did and how it affected everyone else. It is at this point that she begins her novel "Atonement" which gives us the story as seen by or told to her. The final incarnation of Briony is at age 77, dear Vanessa Redgrave with her still-bright blue eyes - it was nice to see her again! While these are the main performers, the supporting cast contains some real gems - Brenda Blethyn: not a "big" role as Robbie's mother, but her performances are always solid. Then there was a young man, I'm sorry I didn't know him other than that his name is Daniel something-or-other. (Shame on me!) He portrays a soldier called "Nettles" who was pretty annoying early on - chatty Cockney lad who knows his way backwards around the "F" word. Later, he becomes the kind of friend to Robbie that everyone should have - I won't say more about the circumstances except to say that he was sterling.
Sorry to rave but I simply love this movie, even though it's a six hanky tour de force. However, for those who did NOT like it, or weren't sure on the first viewing, it's worth a second (and a third) look. If the English upper-middle class accent is too tough, don't forget about subtitles! There's no shame in that - sometimes people from different parts of England don't know what the h*** the others are talking about! I could give you an example of that, but it has nothing to do with the movie so I will end by saying that I highly recommend this one and I absolutely refuse to take it back - so there! Enjoy.