Oscar History
Welcome

The Film Experience™ was created by Nathaniel R. Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. All material herein is written and copyrighted by Nathaniel or a member of our team as noted.

Powered by Squarespace
Don't Miss This!

The Gotham Nominations

Get Out (4 nods each), Lady Bird, Call Me By Your Name, Florida Project (3 nods each)

Comment Fun

Comment(s) Du Jour
I Tonya Teaser

"I don't know why but I immediately think of "DROP DEAD GORGEOUS" when I see this preview.. -David

"That CGI is a dealbreaker for me, it totally took me out of that trailer." - LC

"I'm totally in for this." - Aaron

What'cha Looking For?
Interviews

Karen Allen Actress
(By the Sea)
Costume Designers
(Grace & Frankie
Jerome Reybaud Director
(4 Days in France)
Nicholas Galitzine Actor
(Handsome Devil)
James Ivory Director
(Maurice Restoraton)

Keep TFE Strong

We're looking for 500 Patron Saints!

IF YOU READ THE SITE DAILY, PLEASE BE ONE BY DONATING. 
Your suscription dimes make an enormous difference to The Film Experience in terms of stability and budget to dream bigger. Consider...

I ♥ The Film Experience

THANKS IN ADVANCE

Subscribe
« Judy by the Numbers: "If I Forget You" | Main | A Series of Unfortunate Casting Decisions »
Tuesday
Mar152016

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Atonement (2007)

Briony's eyes. Every shot is telling, this one directly, confrontationally to the camera.

Stupendous. It's stupendous, darling."

That's Mother Tallis's review of her precocious daughter Briony's (Saoirse Ronan) very serious new play at the beginning of Atonement (2007). It's also any sensible person's reaction to this amazing motion picture. Seeing it again (I hadn't seen it since 2007) was close to overwhelming. Praise be to Director Joe Wright and Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey because this thing hasn't aged a single day. If anything it's become more beautiful with the passage of time, a neat trick since memory is one of its great subjects. It's superbly acted (particularly by James McAvoy in what is certainly his most moving performance), and features a veritable parade of emblematic, gorgeous, and thrillingly visceral images for this exercize of ours. What to even choose: Cecilia wet and haughty at the fountain; The lovers, already "characters" in future novelists Briony's mind erotically pressed against books in the library (my runner up for Best Shot); that amazing tracking shot at Dunkirk which pulls us out of the story (sort of) just long enough to stingingly remind us that War doesn't care about Individual Characters and Their Arcs -- it's ready to soil everything; any closeup of Briony whether she's imaginatively confused (Saoirse Ronan), guilt-ridden shellshocked (Romola Garai), or, wide-eyed with the fraternal twins of truth and fiction (Vanessa Redgrave); and of course anything and everything involving Keira Knightley in the green dress, the dress that should've won Jacqueline Durran the Oscar in a landslide.

Here are the choices from our Best Shot Club, open to anyone who wants to join after the jump...

(My Honorable Mention) This image is heart stopping. It's the kick off of the whole tragedy but since the film has already played with rewinding itself you're desperate to stop the movie and rewrite the scene. DON'T GIVE HER THE LETTER. Even better: Note all the foreshadowing and character play. Briony is surrounded by wildly unkempt nature (she can't help herself) in all of these early scenes, and as Robby stops to hand her the letter, he's already behind bars. 

ATONEMENT (2007)
Best Shot Visual Index

15 images from 19 corresponding articles.
Reading the other choices is my favorite part!

a girl who lives entirely in her head in a world that is much too big for her...
-Movie Motorbreath

THIS is the moment...
-Me Says

Often dismissed as Prestige Historical Melodrama, Atonement is more sharply intellectual than meets the eye. 
-Best Shot in the Dark

This is a true sliver of knowledge...
-Bennett Prosser


Subtlety ceases to matter when you are enveloped in a cinematic world as rich and kinetic as his...
-Coco Hits New York

Restraint is so potent in any English romantic period drama but this needs something else to dirty it up... 
-I Want to Believe 

the library...
-Christian Bonamusa

a master class in how to shoot, cut, and score a sex scene...
-Dancin Dan on Film


the confession...
-Out to the Movies

The framing of the shot makes one’s heart sink...
-Awards Madness

There's more going on here than just the dress of course - much more... 
-Antagony & Ecstasy


Using the agony of war to magnify the isolation of his own personal anguish... 
-Film Mixtape

20 minutes of story stretched out into 2 hours... 
-54 Disney Reviews

Robbie's emotions finally get the best of him...
- Sorta That Guy

Worth noting is how unsteady the camera is in this sequence
-Scopophiliac at the Cinema

On this viewing of the film, I found myself feeling more sympathy for Briony than ever...
- Film Actually

 The hurt, the love and the sadness she feels for her little sister... beautifully captured by Keira
-Cinematic Corner

Not a film about a love story, but rather a film about storytelling itself...
-Magnificent Obsession

PLEASE CHECK OUT THOSE GREAT ARTICLES!
Click here for the Upcoming Best Shot Schedule

P.S. [spoilers ahead] I couldn't leave you without the green dress and this final thought.

We never learn what critics think of Briony's work but the visuals tell us she becomes a great novelist. Note how when she is telling the story from her perspective she never really sees her sister, often looking at her from a distance and often through some filter or with obstructed views. Then when she's telling the story from Robby's perspective (though we don't know it's all her storytelling until the end) the camera gets as close as it can to Cecilia, particularly in the replay of the arrest scene. We've already seen it when it looks like a proscenium with the entire ensemble staring at Robby. When we return to it again the camera swoops in dramatically complete with fog and heightened color and in complete awe of Keira Knightley's beauty

Briony's view of CeciliaRobby's view of Cecilia (my best shot)

 

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (34)

Such a beautiful, perfect film. It was a heart-wrenching pleasure re-watching it for this series. Can't wait to read everyone's picks and posts.

March 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

Not surprised so many went for the cinema shot, because it's extraordinarily tempting.

Pleasantly surprised at how many went for the library shelf sex shot.

March 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAR

I'm thoroughly surprised at not a single mention of the Dunkirk shot from anyone!

I adore this film. I feel like it was dismissed at the time as standard costume drama, but Wright approaches it with such emotional intelligence and willingness to take risks. 2007 was such an incredible year.

March 15, 2016 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

2007 was the last great year for the Best Picture category. All killer, no filler.

March 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJJ

Oh daaaaamn, I thought I'd make it in just before the deadline but here it is anyway:

http://bestshotinthedark.tumblr.com/post/141116949383/atonement-2007-joe-wright-often-dismissed-as

I ultimately just went with a moment that gets better upon multiple viewings. So much pretty in the rest of the movie tho, it feels tiny in comparison.

March 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

Surprised so many people picked the open legs in library or Port of Shadows projection moments. Two good frames that don't even linger when I think about the beauty in the film but are good nonetheless.

March 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

Such a great film. We should do Wright's Pride and Prejudice at some point! It only grows in memory.

March 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMike

^ His version of P&P is incredible and gets even better on repeat viewings, doesn't it? So many smart choices in setting, costumes, editing, casting, performance and music. Glad he carried all those things over to his following films. Pan recently flopped of course but I'll be optimistic with him for a while.

March 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

JJ -- all killer no filler. SO TRUE. and great quote. I'm still confused that Atonement lost best costume design but that year had so much great winners and great movies

Mark -- i love P&P too. I wonder what happened to Joe Wright. He doesn't seem to have been able to recapture these early successes.

oh but totally disagree that the library scene doesn't resonate. It's easily the thing that's easiest to remember about the movie. In fact it felt like the only part of the movie i remembered well.

Chris -- well some of the articles mention the Dunkirk shot. including mine! but I think that's the limitations of this series. because it's a screengrab friendly series it's sometimes more "best frame" than "best shot" -- but that final overview of dunkirk just kills me-- especially that ferris wheel in the backdrop for some reason. so impactful.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Nathaniel - Oscar successes, you mean? Because in terms of critics and fans, both Hanna and Anna Karenina are remember very fondly. And it's fuunny to think both P&P and AK received the exact same # of Oscar and BAFTA nods, both so wildly different approaches to adapting those literary classics.

Hmmm interesting re: the library scene. It just doesn't work for me, nicely directed tho it is. The tone just drives off in a bunch of different directions, even playing for laughs at one point.

Anyway, this was a fun episode. I'll have to catch up on everyone's articles tomorrow.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

Love this film. Great through line for Soarirse. And James MacAvoy should have won an Oscar. It's such an honest performance from a male lead. Not fussy or distant like DDL.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTom Ford

I took forever writing this post. So here's my late entry which happens to be the same as yours.
http://thewickspicks.tumblr.com/post/141133697835/hit-me-with-your-best-shot-atonement-2007

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

I'll comment Magnificent Obsession's post here since the whole discussion is centered here at TFE:

"Considering such a heartfelt defence of happy endings it seems fitting that the film’s authors decided themselves to show generous empathy and forgiveness towards their protagonist, a fellow storyteller, allowing her to find some solace in life. And it isn’t as if this conclusion to Bryony’s story is of particular joyfulness and absolute catharsis, after all she’s slowly succumbing to dementia and it’s quite clear that she has spent her entire life under the strenuous and crushing burden of her guilt."

That's exactly where the movie betrays the book.

McEwan's book was about the impossibility of forgiveness, not only from the ones Briony hurt, but forgiveness in a broader sense. It was about the the impossibility of the redemption of the atheists, as Briony.

That's why she dies without telling anyone what really happened and the book is posthumous. It must happens after her death to sell the concept: storytelling is her only forgiving God, because, to McEwan and to Briony, there is no real God.

That's why her arc is so devastating - this empathy towards the protagonist shown in that interview in the movie cheapens a much more complex concept.

This concept, for example, makes the book a singular companion to Yann Martel's Life of Pi, a very misunderstood book about God that's not about God, but about storytelling.

To McEwan and Martel, God is storytelling, God is narrative, and that's why art is intrinsically connected to religion, even when it wants to deny God (McEwan) or to express faith as a choice, agnostically (the coda in Life of Pi is just that, it says you choose to believe in a story, it never says there is an universal truth).

I loved Atonement, but its screenplay fails terribly in not realizing what the book is really about.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

"Then when she's telling the story from Robby's perspective (though we don't know it's all her storytelling until the end)" - was that moment really her storytelling? I assumed everything that actually happened that Robbie was alive for was shown through his eyes not Briony's storytelling....

I'm kinda shocked the schoolgirls and poppy field shots weren't chosen! But these are such excellent picks especially Briony peeking almost completely obscured by the dark and shadows

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered Commentersati

Nathaniel - I guess I was expecting more chosen Best Shots for that shot. For whatever reason, it's when the choir comes in that I always start crying.

Tom Ford - I love McAvoy in this as well. It's interesting in multiple viewing how you can see the small ways he plays Briony's version of Robbie in the final two acts

March 16, 2016 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

sati -- somehow i had forgotten about the schoolgirls shot but McAvoy is incredible in that one too. I really think it's a capital G Great performance. But its in a romantic drama and we all know that's the hardest kind of drama to get a man appreciated by critics/Oscars for his skills.

cal -- but what if -- i know this is a heretical concept to many people -- it wasn't meant to be an exact approximation of the book? I don't personally subscribe to the notion that adaptations should be true in all respects. I like them when they create their own monster from the source.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

cal roth - I must confess that my love of the film as always informed my reading of the book, since I watched Joe Wright’s version at a formative age in my appreciation of film and art, and only read McEwan’s work much later on, when I was in college.

While I agree with your assessment about the way in which the film doesn’t fully translate the book’s thesis on the lack of absolution of the atheist Briony who can only find solace in her act of storytelling, I don’t happen to believe the film really tries to convey that religious perspective at all. You may consider this a problem of adaptation, but I often defend that films should try to offer new perspectives on the literary works they’re based upon, and not just offer a strict translation of all of its contents into cinematic languages. Atonement, to me, is a great example of that, using its form to comment on the several layers of fiction present in the story in a way the book doesn’t accomplish, and, at the same time, offering a very distinct portrayal of the protagonist, that escapes the often introspective approach of the book.

The book and the film have two very different approaches in that regard, and I would honestly feel the film would fall into abject misanthropy if it kept the book’s finale as it exists in McEwan’s work. The film needs that moment of empathy and compassion to contrast and justify its formalist and often cold view of all that precedes that ending, in a way the book didn’t, simply because its portrayal of the previous narrative was rich in the interiority the film conspicuously avoids up until its last few minutes.

As a (terrible and clichéd) conclusion, I’d point out that cinema and literature are different arts, and that the author of the film Atonement isn’t Ian McEwan, but Joe Wright and Tom Stoppard. Fittingly, the film offers a conclusion that reflects a different ideological perspective, not less complex (to me, at least) than McEwan’s, but drastically different nonetheless. In its film version, Atonement becomes an exploration of storytelling portrayed in a compassionate and intrinsically cinematic way, while the book, for all its uses of different ideas of truth and fiction, is a work that seeks to explore guilt and the impossibility of absolution as its main themes.

You may completely disagree with this, and I probably would too, if I had read the book as an adult and then watched the film, but I really love that finale, even if it doesn’t translate McEwan’s views.

Also, thank you for commenting, even if it was to disagree with me. I really appreciate it.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterca

Nathaniel and ca - I don't think the movie should respect everything in the book, and I am not fundamentalist at all when it comes to adaptations. My point is what I get from thje movie instead is not a better concept, it's a cheap moment of redemption. You change a lot from the book you adapt if you bring new and interesting ideas. I strongly disagree with what they did to that ending (and I disagree that keeping the original ending would be misanthopy - recognizing there is no forgiveness is still a compassionate thing), since it's an unnecessary moment of relief that ruins what could be really devastating.

Nathaniel, remember August: Osage County's ending? That's my analogy.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

The Dunkirk shot is the best shot of this century if you ask me-- the roving camera, the huddling masses, the swells of voices as the camera floats past.

It's the reason why Joe Wright has my undying love.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

cal roth – I’m sorry if I sounded dismissive of the book’s ending, it certainly wasn’t my intention. Like you, I also believe that the recognition that forgiveness is ultimately impossible can be a compassionate resolution, I just think that the film’s construction, up until those last minutes, unlike McEwan’s work, doesn’t really support that thesis.

Also, while the ending of the film version of August Osage County is terrible, part of its problematic nature stems from the fact the filmmakers did nothing to justify its existence or support its ideas. And that film has many problems other than that ending, starting with its prosaic and perniciously uninspired form.

Regarding the rest of your (very well defended) arguments, agree to disagree.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterca

Cal -- that makes me understand your argument better, yes. But I'm ca on this (Cal and ca... this is confusing) in that Atonement at least earns its changes and commits to them whereas August just wants them because it's so dumb ;)

March 16, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

This is glorious. So much swoon. My favourite HMWYBS since Batman Returns.
So pleased that so many people feel the same about Atonement as I do. For some reason I assumed it had been written off as 'oscar bait'. It's pure cinematic heaven. I love love love love love it. LOVE. IT.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJB

@cal roth: My point is what I get from thje movie instead is not a better concept, it's a cheap moment of redemption.

I really don't get this. How does what Briony does at the end redeem her? If anything, I think her attempt to suggest that writing a fix-it fanfic of her life where she gets to make up for her mistakes shows how hollow it all is. They're dead, and nothing she does changes that at all.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSean C.

"cal -- but what if -- i know this is a heretical concept to many people -- it wasn't meant to be an exact approximation of the book? I don't personally subscribe to the notion that adaptations should be true in all respects. I like them when they create their own monster from the source."

I think Wright kind of did the same thing with Pride and Prejudice which is why some people hate it but I loved his version.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJackie

we just don't talk about Vanessa Redgrave enough here.
my own pick will also be that library scene for sure.

I love the performance of all 3 Brionys, but Garai just striked my heartstrings the most.
It mostly has to do with my favorite scene in the movie, which is the one with her and the dying soldier.
I actually thought that she really had met him before and loved him.
The longing, the crushed love, the painful realization..

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercraver

I still believe that the reason this movie is not loved more is Romola Garai's nothing performance. Otherwise the movie is perfect. But there is this big void of nothing in the middle of it. Specially when constrated with Ronan's fire.

March 16, 2016 | Registered CommenterMurtada Elfadl

Ha, it's so interesting that I thought I was going to look like a total perv by being the only one who chose the library sex shot but it also ended up being tied with my runner-up of the movie projection on the wall.

Murtada, I totally agree. Romola just looks like she's zoned out for her section of the movie. Like she found out she failed her Organic Chemistry exam and will have to take the class all over again while she was filming.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck.

@Sean C. It's a confession, she gets to vocalize what she did in public, getting, of course, as ca said, empathy. As a successful novelist, she'll be forgiven, not by the ones she hurt, but by her readers and critics. It's very different than taking this secret to the grave.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

@Murtada & Derreck: I've always wondered what the consensus was on Garai in this movie. I remember liking her and was really moved by her scene with the soldier, but I've never really heard any talk about her work in the film. I always attributed it to her being the least famous person (and least showy performer) in the movie, but maybe the majority of the film's audience shares your opinion. I liked her in a film called Glorious 39, which is basically Atonement meets an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

Just watched this and it's definitely Dunkirk for me.

So much of the movie is excellent. Say, the first hour and last twenty minutes. It comes to such a screeching halt though when Ramola Garai's Briony enters. This strong, passionate, charismatic and DEEPLY misguided fascinating young girl becomes a simpering hesitant waif in the course of three or four years? I wouldn't have minded if Robbie threw her down the stairs.

Both Redgrave and Ronan bring an underlying vitality to the role. This is a girl who feels deeply, even when she's dead wrong. With Garai I don't feel it. At all. Every sequence with her feels false. This brings down that transcendent first act and final scene, unfortunately.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercatbaskets

Really terrific work all.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Zitzelman

Dunkirk is probably my favorite SCENE and while technically it's all in "one shot" it's also quite difficult to display that in one screen shot! But that's also why I picked the "Robbie in front of the film screen" shot that so many of us picked because it's pretty much the emotional climax/result of that astounding Dunkirk scene.

Anyways, James McAvoy should've won every single awards for this role. It's maddening.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

@cal roth: I really don't see that as very significant. What would the reaction of those people mean to her? Moreover, we don't see anything like that. The final scene is focused on her, and her face as she tries to assert that this is her way of making up for it, despite how clearly inadequate it is, and she knows that.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSean C.

I adore this movie. Thanks for choosing it.

March 16, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercash

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>