The plot of Atonement is simple enough. Two lovers (Cecilia is rich, Robbie is not) fall victim to the prying eyes of Cecilia's jealous, overimaginative younger sister, Briony. Ever watchful, Briony sees what she believes is Robbie raping her underaged cousin. After a case of mistaken identities, the young gentleman is carted off to prison. To escape his sentence, he enlists in the army. World War II is waging, and the British military needs some able-bodied men.
So, the question that evolves from all this is: Will the lovers have their happy ending? The answer, without giving a thing away, is yes and no.
I thought I was watching a clever bit of romantic intrigue until about halfway through the film-- good stuff, but nothing I would remember a few months from now. Then comes a shot--The Shot, I should say--after which all becomes richer, deeper and more complicated. The shot in question is a surreal, minutes-long panorama of an army awaiting transport on a beach in France. Our enlisted lover, Robbie (the handsome and understated James McAvoy), wanders in and out of this portrait that is remiscent of an Ensor painting and nothing like the hermetic realm of the country estate where he grew up and his mother was a servant. On the well-to-do manor, chaos is imposed by a thirteen year old aspiring writer (acted magnificently, by the way, by Saoirse Ronan). Here, in war, chaos is the rule.
Meanwhile Robbie's Cecilia (Keira Knightley, excellent), ever faithful, carries on as best she can as a war nurse, having exiled herself from her family. In the middle of it all is our hero, Briony, ostensibly trying to make amends to her sister and would-be brother-in-law. We will learn, after she has aged into Vanessa Redgrave (in a perfect performance), whether she has earned that coveted sentiment after which the film is named.
Director Joe Wright, who made 2005's Pride and Prejudice, is a superb storyteller, eliminating dialogue when images and music will do. Even so, words are at the heart of this story. One word in particular, deemed by many to be the foulest in the English language, sets things in motion. It is what Wright spins from this one word, innocently typed by Robbie on a note to Cecilia, that makes Atonement a McBone Must-See and a sure-fire candidate for McBone Movie of the Year.
Nate's McBone Rating: 4.5 McBones.