Spanning several decades, 13-year-old Briony living a life of wealth and privilege makes an accusation that changes the course of three lives forever. Through a courageous act of imagination, she finds the path to her uncertain atonement and to an understanding of the power of enduring love.
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As an adaptation, it captures McEwan's sharp critique of pre-war social dynamics and a tragic dramatic irony that dooms the tale's protagonists. The brief scenes of war echo Wilfred Owen's poetry painted into motion picture. Knightley and McAvoy arrest the screen, and the ensemble add layer upon layer to an at times disturbing, and always deeply felt tale.
Younger sisters always snooping around, goddamnit! The dichotomy between reality and Briony's point of view is masterfully directed, while twelve-year-old Saoirse Ronan gives the best performance of the whole cast. Give this movie a second watch to fully appreciate it's cinematography and beautiful shots.
So maybe the script is terrible. To be honest, the only significant line is "I saw him." But that's okay, because the story is still visually beautiful. Of course, it doesn't quite live up to the book (Robbie's war experiences were almost entirely removed, though they constitute about a third of the novel), but as I said, the images are still stunning and it's worth a watch just for that.
After 3 years, my thoughts on the film have changed very little. It is still cinematically beautiful, with its understated symbolism and honest (though somewhat lacking) evocation of wartime Britain. It is also still emotionally shallow and unengaging, with sympathies being forced rather than earned, and leaving motives unsatisfyingly unexplored (as well as an unyielding fixation on Knightley's shoulder blades).
Well-crafted, but ultimately dull period drama is disjointed and plodding despite some effective scenes and impressive set pieces. Excellent cinematography and production design, and some great performances - but the story is just never compelling enough. Great score by Dario Marianelli, though the insistant typewriter clacking was a questionable choice.