Saoirse Ronan
James McAvoy
Keira Knightley
Juno Temple
Harriet Walter
Brenda Blethyn
Romola Garai
Patrick Kennedy
Benedict Cumberbatch
Felix von Simson
Charlie von Simson
Vanessa Redgrave

Joe Wright





Time: 123 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Drama/Romance/War

Won Academy Award for Best Original Score. Nominated for Best Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Supporting Actress (Ronan), Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.

SYNOPSIS: Fledgling writer Briony, as a 13-year-old, irrevocably changes the course of several lives when she accuses her older sister's lover of a crime he did not commit.

BOTTOM LINE: When I heard they were making this Ian Mcewan novel into a movie I was a bit stunned. Having read it before seeing the film I knew what I was in for. I feel bad for everyone who went into this picture unwittingly thinking it was some great romantic story – which it is at some points – but not very many. I guess the title is a clear sign that this is not a happy tale...

Despite that, it's one that is thoroughly compelling bringing the audience into the mind, heart and soul of a lonely, attention-starved 13-year-old girl, who fashions herself a great writer and who unwittingly discovers the brutal power words can wield. Usually more entranced by the worlds and characters she creates on paper, she's brought back into reality by several encounters between her older sister, Cecilia (Knightley) and the housekeeper's son Robbie (McAvoy) that she interprets as sinister, when in fact they are merely sexually charged.

Since Cecilia has never shown any romantic interest in Robbie, Briony's assumption that his attentions are unwanted is somewhat true. Only this just happens to be the day Cecilia realizes she's in love with Robbie. His explosive declaration of his lust in a letter – unfortunately read by the dangerously naive Briony – unlocks both their inhibitions, breaking her cold, aloof facade and setting off a chain of events that changes their future forever. Faced with a terrible crime, Briony's own crush on Robbie clouds her judgement, compelling her to make a statement she knows will damn him, but that she convinces herself to be true in order to "protect" her sister and secretly keep Robbie for herself.

"I wouldn't necessarily believe everything Briony tells you. She's rather fanciful."

Her deception forces the lovers apart, leaving them to try to keep their one moment of true connection and passion alive over years of separation and physical turmoil. Neither wants anything to do with Briony, who both believe knew better and was only acting out to gain attention. For her part, when Briony becomes an adult she tries to "atone" for the damage she caused, but the years have not been kind with the war causing even more hardship for Robbie and Cecilia. In the end, it seems they find some small piece of happiness with each other, but all is not always what it seems when it comes to the circumstances of Briony's life.

This cannot have been an easy film to adapt as much of the story is internal, but Wright and company make your heart ache for the plight of these young lovers. Knightley and McAvoy don't have a lot of character development to work with – they are mere pawns in Briony's tale – but their chemistry carries the film a long way. It wouldn't work if you didn't really believe in the depth of their devotion. Robbie's guilt or innocence is a bit more shrouded in the novel, however, the film makes it clear with its' casting who the true "villain" is, which makes one feel even worse when Robbie gets blamed. McAvoy isn't your typical leading man, but his sweet charm and honest masculinity made me wonder what took Cecilia so long to make her feelings known. I know, it was a different time and he's the son of their housekeeper. Whatever. Knightley gives the character a bit more innate intelligence than she had in the book and ultimately makes you feel her bitterness and desperation with every movement of her body, which grows painfully thin as the film progresses and the privations of war take hold.

Saoirse Ronan gives a performance that is rare for a child actor. Even though I wanted to slap her most of the time, which was the point I suppose, she actually makes you feel sorry for Briony. This girl was clearly in way over her head and the shock of adults being, well adult, would have sent me in a tailspin too if I was as unprepared as she was with the facts of life. I can't blame them for not wanting to forgive her, after all she ruined every possible hope they had of a normal future together, but it's clear her lie ruined her life as well. Both Garai and Redgrave seamlessly carry the character of Briony into adulthood, capturing the nuances of her speech and movement perfectly. Despite her insular nature, they bring you into her world and make you feel not only her pain, but her redemption as well.

My one complaint is that the scenes of Robbie during World War II, in battle and on the beach at Dunkirk, just went on too long. While visually powerful and devestating to watch, the story just sort of stagnates as Robbie desperately attempts to find his way home. Of course, the more painful and drawn out his separation from Cecilia is, the more joy will be felt upon his return, but these scenes just made me uncomfortable since I already knew the final outcome. War isn't pretty and this section of the film only helps to illustrate that fact, making me wish he had just stayed in prison instead of trying to be a hero.

Everything about the film's look and feel, from the language to the costumes to the music and even the actors movements, transports you to a different time and place, sometimes against your will. It truly captures the nuances, style and spirit of the novel, which is a rarity for adaptations. This is an intense, dark story about love and deception that not every one will care for...especially those who like a tidy ending.

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