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Film Review: The Pros and Cons of Watching Atonement the Movie

Updated on September 3, 2014

Read Ian McEwan's masterpiece novel Atonement, and hoping to enrich the experience? Love a challenging film? Read on!


Pro: It's cinematography at its finest.

It is hard to compensate for the huge loss of words when adapting a novel into a film, but somehow, director Joe Wright manages. The display of cinematic techniques is impressive in upholding the mood of the novel and varies between the four contrasting parts of the film (Parts One, Two and Three and the Coda). Here's some examples.

Lighting. What better way to convey perception than through the light of truth and shadow of doubt? Watch how Wright plays with lighting throughout the film. In particular, note how lighting builds increasingly brighter to Briony's climactic epiphany in the wedding scene of Part Three.

Color palette. In Part One, the color palette is overly verdant and luscious, mirroring beautifully the sexual tension, oppressive heat, and facade of perfection the upper middle class life of 1935 creates. More earthy, gray tones are used in the next part to portray war scenes leached of color and life. In Part Three, a harsher, sterile color palette reflects the protagonist Briony's suffering and self-punishment as she undergoes nurses' training.

Framing. If the typical close-up shots of Briony's face, centered and staring directly into the camera are not enough to haunt you, perhaps you really are better off reading the book.

Con: It's condensed.

Like any film adaptation, you do lose a lot of detail the novel had. Whilst the guts of the story and narrative structure is intact in the film, there are some subplots that have been left out. For instance, whilst the book provides background information on the father of Robbie Turner, the gardener, the film barely mentions him. The war scenes in the film are also less graphic, which, granted, may be a blessing to some. Naturally, we also lack the exact thoughts of the characters, as written in the book. We are left to infer their thoughts, which adds to the challenging nature of the film.

Pro: It follows the novel's unique narrative structure wonderfully.

One of the greatest features of McEwan's masterpiece is its narrative structure. Here's how Wright treated each aspect of the structure...

Cut backs. Not flashbacks, cut backs. Certain parts of the narrative are repeated, from different points of view. Good transitioning in the film - these cut backs were very clear and effective. Portrays the dangerous perceptions Briony forms in Part One.

Flashbacks. Again, clear and effective. Sprinkled throughout the film, flashbacks provide insight and offer explanations. They're there for you to embrace or reject in piecing together the meaning of the film.

Jumps in time. Ah, the brutal, merciless cuts. Couldn't be more devastating in the film. Deliciously unsatisfying and thought-provoking. Jumping straight from the horrific night in 1935 to the war in France five years later has a definite impact on the viewer.

Con: The ending format is different (NO spoilers).

Whilst the Coda, or epilogue is longer in the novel and takes place in various locations, it is much simpler and set in a single, different location in the film. However, the Coda in the film is equally (if not more) juicy and dramatic, not to worry! Furthermore, the change in setting for the film arguably conveys the first-person narrative point-of-view that McEwan uses in the epilogue better. Overall, the messages and sense of ambiguity are conveyed well in both endings.

Pro: James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan and Vanessa Redgrave.

Yes, the casting is pretty solid. Appropriately, James McAvoy has to be the most lovable, heartbreaking Robbie Turner. Saoirse and Vanessa are great Brionys with equally startling bright, blue eyes. Even Keira Knightley - of whom, it seems, some critics are not especially great fans - manages to convincingly portray the snobby older sister, Cecilia.

Con: Benedict Cumberbatch will haunt your nightmares forever.

Okay, maybe not. But the onscreen Paul Marshall is frightfully chilling. The creepiest antagonist ... ever. Beware, young children. Not a 'child-friendly' sort, at all. Unless we are talking a particular, inappropriate kind of 'friendly'.

Pro: Wright did McEwan justice.

Rarely do you find a film to match the novel.

Introducing ... Atonement! I loved the film so much, I would even go so far as to say that I enjoyed it more than the novel. Woops... Did I really just say that? If you want to contest me, watch the film, or leave comments!


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    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

      I thought the film was great. And your review is quite excellent. Thank you for a good read. And welcome to the HubPages Community!

    • samanthamayer profile image

      samanthamayer 6 years ago from New Zealand

      There's some very deep emotional 'stuff' in there! So I've found you either love it, or you hate it. I hope you do enjoy. :)

    • profile image

      sestasik 6 years ago

      Per Netflix, Atonement is arriving tomorrow. Will check it out and let you know what we thought. I'm not sure if it will be my husband's cuppa, but he agreed it was worth seeing for the villain.

    • samanthamayer profile image

      samanthamayer 6 years ago from New Zealand

      Thank you. It seemed to work for me the first time I tried it, so I think I'll continue to do it this way from now on. I find it more straightforward.

    • Healthy Fat Guy profile image

      Healthy Fat Guy 6 years ago from Cincinnati, OH

      I love the way you titles this hub...pros and cons; as opposed to "Atonement review."

    • samanthamayer profile image

      samanthamayer 6 years ago from New Zealand

      He's an excellent actor. I promise you, he doesn't disappoint!

    • profile image

      sestasik 6 years ago

      We loved Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC Sherlock series. I've not read this book, but I might have to check out the movie just to see Cumberbatch play a creepy villain...Thanks!