In discussing films, there might be spoilers. Sorry!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Atonement ... GUEST Lyn Davis

James McAvoy headlines in the film, Atonement, an historical fiction dealing with love, war, betrayal, death and the illusive happily-ever-after.

The award winning and versatile James McAvoy, breathes life into the somber young Robbie Turner. His cherubic pale skin and bright eyes appear innocent and then we catch the glint of desire. Atonement allows him to showcase Robbie Turner’s passion for Cecelia Tallis (Keira Knightly) in their first encounter at the fountain.

That meeting, misinterpreted by the jealous young sister, Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) ignites the reactions that squash every dream Robbie and Cecelia have of a life together.

James McAvoy conveys the honorable qualities and good manners of one intending to study medicine. He remains steadfast even when falsely accused and convicted of rape, so he opts to serve his sentence in the army instead of prison. The war intrudes, but he survives. Hope heightens in the rowdy chaos on the Dunkirk beach the day he and mates are being evacuated.

Director Joe Wright, unfolds Turner’s growing dementia, arising out of the septicemia. The casting of McAvoy fits with the many other “odd” roles he’s played. From the charming, never-give-up, wheelchair-bound hellion in Rory O’Shea was Here or the rakish, Tom Lefroy, in Becoming Jane--bound by constraints of marrying well--or the appealing Mr. Tumnus, in Narnia, who betrays young Lucy, McAvoy provides a tapestry of roles, unique and idiosyncratic. Complex characters. Quirky stories. James McAvoy celebrates the unusual in his roles.

Atonement is no different, though we are fooled into believing the gentle, handsome hero, who ventures to love the daughter of his benefactor, will have a happily-ever-after ending. After all, true love wins out. War cannot squelch passion or desire. The French cinema with its oversized screen on the evacuation day, parades the belief love will win.

The movie flip-flops between romantic encounters of Robbie and Cecelia executed in the sounds of pounding the keys on old manual typewriter and scenes of war and harsh reality. Aspiring novelist Briony finishes her novel Atonement as a mature author, acknowledging her retrospective clashes with the harsh truth of her secret.

The all-grown-up Briony, played by Vanessa Redgrave, reveals the horror of war’s reality, when she discloses Robbie died on the coast of France and Cecelia drowned in a tunnel during an air raid. The travesty constricts our throats and tears tumble at the heartbreak. Love doesn’t win, dreams and hopes are shattered and lives expire too soon.

And then, Briony presents Atonement, the gift of a novel from the one who ruined their lives, written so the deserving can have their happily ever after ending. Briony’s atonement for her failure.

James McAvoy sustains a character that both rips our heart out with the truth and elevates our joy in the fictional version. He dramatizes authentic life and the pleasure of false fantasies within in the same character. Complex and quirky. The kind of character James McAvoy does and does well.

Look for him in an unexpected portrayal of Charles Xavier as a young man in X-men: First Class.


  1. I got lost in the book, I must admit. At some point I just stopped caring about the story. But your review makes me think that the film may be one of those rare occasions where the actors make the story work, despite the book's shortcomings. Thanks for drawing me in!

  2. Thanks Lisa, your comments mean a lot to me. I hoped to showcase McAvoy's talent for creating appealing characters, even when they are subtle.