Tuesday, September 11, 2007


I'm always intrigued when film projects go badly wrong. So much money and talent is involved in any big movie that one would expect gross error to be eliminated. The gross error in Joe Wright's film of Ian McEwan's novel Atonement is that it has the wrong director. Whatever else it is, Atonement is a great story but Wright is not interested in stories, he's interested in images and spectacle. The most egregious example is when our hero struggles up a sand-dune at Dunkirk - and how many time have you see this shot before? - suddenly sees thousands of men on the beaches. Then follows a tracking shot lasting several minutes and costing, I would guess, hundreds of thousands if not millions, showing what's going on among the soldiers. It's derivative, juvenile and nothing to do with Atonement. Think what Almodovar would have made of this moment. Maybe this doesn't matter. The film has received some good reviews. Sukhdev Sandhu in the Telegraph is ecstatic. But then the other intriguing thing about the film industry is the warped minds of film critics. Incidentally, all the stuff about the acting - especially Keira Knightley's - is nonsense. The only acting in the film happens in the last five minutes when Vanessa Redgrave appears and, in a sudden attack of good sense, Wright just points the camera at her. For the first time the story mattered.


  1. having seen many photos taken by the good citizens of Redcar of the reconstructed facades on the sea front, the wreckage on the beach and the extraordinarily authentic looking extras queuing at the catering van I can't wait to see the finished result Bryan, but you're right, it must have cost an absolute fortune

    I do so hope the loveley Ms Knightly hasn't used this film as the one where she starts acting though. She does that kind of standing there looking vulnerable yet stoical, and rather bemused by the whole affair thing so well. Doesn't sound from your review that there's anything to worry about though

  2. I'm looking forward to this film -- after the last McEwan adaptation (the execrable "Enduring Love"), this will have to be better.

    And I don't mind when films do things that they can do better than books, such as the tracking shots you deplore, and so forth. What the film won't be able to capture as well is the soldier's feeling as the shrapnel is working its way into and out of him on his march, or the mother's migraine headaches and her way of listening to the whole household.

    So much of McEwan's writing is about internal sensations and complicated interior monologues that I wonder anyone can make a decent film of his work. Imagine what "Chesil Beach" will be like on film? It could easily be a 5-minute short film about an unfulfilling wedding night. How to get all that internal misery on the bride's part, her fear of physical intimacy? Or all the class angst on the groom's part, his fear of being put down?

    Novels, movies are different animals. Few great books make equally great movies, though there are a few: "To Kill a Mockingbird" is one.

  3. Don't read this if you don't like spoilers. The worst part of the film must be the moment when Old Bryony tells us that Cecilia died when a bomb fell on a watermain or suchlike above Balham tube station. So what does Wright do? Yes, he switches on an enormous pump and films tidal waves of water washing through the tunnels of the Underground. And then we get Keira's lovely corpse swirling round like a cocktail stick in a drain...It's all in the worst possible sub-Titanic taste.

    I was also amused to see that Wright reckoned Bryony would keep exactly the same schoolgirl bob ALL HER LIFE, yay, even as a pensioner. Of course, that's the only way you can establish that all three Bryonys - young, middle-aged and old - are the same person.

  4. 12-16-07 Saw the movie this afternoon with great expectations. The ads mention it as on par with "The English Patient". I didn't know much about the film locations. Delighted to know Dunkirk was filmed in Redcar. I recognised the Director's tracking shot and was okay with the film until the guy shoots the horses on the beach.That bothered me....as unnecessary for film realisim. I read through the credits waiting for the phrase "No animals were injured in the making of this film" didn't see it. so if he shot 3-4 good horses for this scene he should be demoted to f*** hell as far as I'm concerned. Did the troops have horses for the invasion of France in 1939? or was that an inaccuracy. have to speak with my brother the war historian in the family.

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