Hit Me With Your Best Shot – Atonement

I regret that I have too much on my plate and even more personal things on my mind to actually finish up on a video episode of “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” this week in time (and the fact that um… we got season 2 of Daredevil being next week’s assignment promises also a text post rather than a video episode). However, all I can say is I’m working on a lot of really good stuff outside of Motorbreath right now and I still swear by the fact that I will return to every single assignment I didn’t make a video episode for and make one because they’re just too damn fun.

Just right now I’m a bit too overwhelmed.

In any case, Nathaniel R.’s current assignment happens to be Joe Wright’s 2007 adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel Atonementthe Best Picture nominee starring James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, and recent Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan in essentially her breakout role. I hadn’t seen in a long while since then so it was time to revisit it and I have to admit that my lukewarm feelings about Atonement were not very much changed by the end of this second viewing.

Wright is a fine stylist, but not to the degree that it actually enhances or compliments the stories he tells (I should note that I haven’t seen Pan yet) and Atonement was pretty much the first film that illustrated it to me for the first time. It’s not a bad film, it’s a lovely looking one with a fantastic performance out of Ronan, and it doesn’t feel slow in the slightest. Both viewings I was shocked by briskly it flies by its 2-hour runtime. But it’s not my jam when I feel I didn’t get anything out a visual adaptation of McEwan’s novel that I didn’t already get from reading the book.

In any case, my choice for Best Shot in Atonement is an extremely early exception to that – one where Wright and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey probably didn’t mean anything I read out of this shot, but certainly one that I only could have read in the second viewing of the film:

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 8.09.59 PM

Moments earlier in this shot, Lola Quincey (Juno Temple) and her siblings had abandoned rehearsal for Briony Tallis’ latest play (Saoirse Ronan). Just a little bit off-center of the shot stands Tallis and her latest work of fictions (like the multiples she writes in the story) in a room so big, the ceiling is cut off by the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. All the chairs in the left half of the corner are very apparent in their emptiness and yet they are positioned in a manner that faces entirely to her.

The reason why I think these elements matter is because frankly – and I risk spoiling the movie (and ESPECIALLY the novel) for you if you haven’t seen it, but I won’t go into specifics – even though Atonement as a film is totally marketed as a romance between McAvoy’s Robbie Turner and Knightley’s Cecelia Tallis (Briony’s elder sister), it is at its core a story about Briony, a girl who lives entirely in her head in a world that is much too big for her. This Briony-centered shot full of emptiness it absolutely showcases (there is nothing in this movie that is subtle – which is maybe another reason why it’s not my jam) illustrates this and the fact that he full focus on this particular frame is on her script just let’s us know how she deals with the things that she simply can’t control in the world – like her siblings’ unwillingness to rehearse or Robbie’s lack of reciprocation for Briony’s crush on him:

She writes. And she crafts fictions and scenarios, some of them extremely harmful (like the movie’s central moment where she accuses Robbie of rape) and some of them to try search for some manner of atonement within her soul… the latter of which I really can’t go into detail without actually spoiling in specificity. So, if you have not seen or read Atonement, I would certainly recommend you do so, though not with any real enthusiasm. By then, it will be obvious that Atonement is essentially a story about what causes us to create stories and, in Briony’s case, it is a mixture of jealousy, isolation, and regret.

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2 thoughts on “Hit Me With Your Best Shot – Atonement

  1. I’m sorry you didn’t love this but I love your shot choice and why. I really think these are intentional in terms of staging but they’re maybe not meant to be seen this easily.

    On the other hand it is NOT a subtle movie. But i love its theatricality. We’re in Briony’s headspace so it should be fanciful and “heightened”

    • Thank you. Just because I don’t love the movie doesn’t mean I find myself disliking it by any means. I stand by the design of the film and it’s central performances, especially Ronan. If anybody claims it’s a bad movie, I’ll fight them with knives and torches.

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