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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
dir Joe Wright
scr Christopher Hampton
with Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave, Saoirse Ronan, Brenda Blethyn, Juno Temple, Gina McKee, Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Mays, Alfie Allen, Jeremie Renier
release UK 7.Sep.07, US 7.Dec.07
07/UK Universal 2h03
Life during wartime: Knightley and McAvoy
Ian McEwan's sprawling novel is wrestled onto the big screen with a skilful directorial touch and a refreshingly smart script. And the acting is good enough to carry us through the slightly dull patches.
On a warm 1935 summer's day at an English manor house, 13-year-old Briony (Ronan) is fascinated by the behaviour of the adults around her, even though she can't quite understand what they're doing. She witnesses two strange encounters between her big sister Cecilia (Knightley) and family friend Robbie (McAvoy), son of the cook (Blethyn), and then acts on this in a way that changes everyone's lives. Through the war years, Briony (now Garai) tries to redeem herself as a nurse, and then much later (now Redgrave) as a novelist.
The most fascinating thing about the story is that the entire plot focuses on Cecilia and Robbie, yet it's only seen through Briony's eyes, in her authorial voice. This adds a level of understanding and insight that makes the story both involving and provocative. It also layers an intriguingly askance tone to segments that feel almost sporadic or irrelevant, most notably the extended war sequence, which includes the breathtaking use of a long tracking shot to capture the Dunkirk encampment.
Director Wright makes sure every scene is gorgeously lit, photographed and edited, drawing out tiny details, a sense of humour and loads of emotion. While Dario Marianelli's soaring score avoids sentimentality (although incorporating Briony's typewriter is slightly annoying). Meanwhile, Hampton gives the actors rich, repressed characters they can dive headlong into.
McAvoy is terrific as the working-class toff whose life is thrown startlingly off course. And his chemistry with Knightley is electric. We've never seen her do anything like this; Cecilia is fascinatingly intricate, haunted, even fierce. Garai and especially newcomer Ronan give Briony a remarkable balance of curiosity and self-doubt, while Redgrave's coda beautifully anchors the entire film.
This is a story about how one naive misunderstanding can change the course of a family's history. Avoiding simplistic solutions, the film never lets us assign blame and seek revenge. And because of the confident filmmaking, the intensity and complexity of the characters' interaction is moving, wrenching and unforgettable.
|Jeremy, Bristol UK: "Well worth seeing. Some very powerful imagery that you might find hard to put aside. Be aware that this film takes its time at the beginning. It felt about ten minutes too long to me and once or twice a little self-indulgent. Then again I think there is no such thing as a 'perfect' film!" (24.Sep.07)
© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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