Monday, December 10, 2007


Technically, my only movie girlfriend -- and an excellent one she is -- is Michelle. Girlfriend and movie girlfriend extraordinaire.

But back in the day, in a joking way, my "movie girlfriend" was Janet Horne, a breaking news editor at the Seattle Times. When we worked together we used to talk about movies all the time and compare tastes, and also bitch about the paper's movie coverage and even complain that our spouses didn't want to go to the movies as often as we did. One of these days, we always said, we should sneak out of this stupid place after the news meeting and catch a matinée. Janet started calling me her movie boyfriend; I returned the nickname, and it was a fun inside joke that lasted for years.

That comes to mind now because, while waiting in line for popcorn at the movies tonight, who should I run into but Janet Horne and her friend, a woman I didn't know, also there to see "Atonement." Well, I said, this is as close as we've ever come to having a movie date.

Even though Janet and I never actually consummated our movie-friend status by seeing a movie together, the theme of "Atonement" puts me in the mood to confess. Like the excellent book by Ian McEwan, which Michelle and I both read about three or four years ago, the Joe Wright film turns on a long-suppressed truth -- a lie, really -- that screws up a potentially wonderful relationship, sends an innocent man to jail, creates pain and havoc that spans a major world war and leaves the perpetrator/narrator scarred with guilt for the rest of her long life.

It's a beautiful, emotional and thoughtful story. I was afraid it might not translate perfectly to film since so much of McEwan's novel is internal and depends on shifting perspectives. Further troubling were the mixed reviews the movie received on its release last week. There were some raves, but some pans too, including by the New York Times ("a small symphony of literal-minded irrelevance").

But Wright and the screenwriter Christopher Hampton (working with McEwan), overcame the obstacles wonderfully, I think. The editing is terrific, conveying the shifting time settings or perspectives, for example, with simple repeated details, like the glint off a dropped earring, or the tapping of an envelope on a door frame.

In the middle of the picture is a spectacular long tracking shot of soldiers on a beach. I recall the Times review complaining that when you see it you think what a great tracking shot rather than, how moving. But I'm sorry, it is a great tracking shot, and moving too. It's not technique in the service of nothing; it works perfectly for this moment in the story.

The acting is solid all around, especially by the girl who plays 13-year-old Briony, a central character, and the casting is inspired -- particularly as Briony ages into a young woman and, finally, into Vanessa Redgrave.

Gina has been pining to see this -- she likes James McAvoy, one of the stars, and Dario Marianelli, the composer -- but it would have to be despite the movie's R rating (probably deserved, for language, a sex scene, an implied sexual assault and some gruesome battle scenes). Even so, I know she'd like it.

Laurie, thank you for your comment earlier and for lurking here. If we share movie tastes at all, and I think we do, you should see this. It's one of the better movies this year. I recommend the book too. 4 gliomas.


kateco said...

These reviews are so damn cool

laurette suzeene said...

I knew you had read the book, because you had spied it on my bookshelf years ago. Alas I have never read the book, it still sits on my self with about another 6-8 on the bought but never read list. Thanks for the wonderful review, it didn't give away much of the movie (knew about as much from seeing the previews). As for movie boyfriends, which I guess I can call Val, (although we already confuse enough people at the farmer's market) I don't think this is on his want to see list. I think I'll need to find some of my girlfriends or catch a show solo. I thought the cinematography looked pretty and Kiera Knightly looked like Winona Ryder. Whatever happen to Winona Ryder?

Mark said...

Wow, that's funny, on our way out of the movie last night Michelle said she thought Keira Knightley was a Winona Ryder wannabe, and whatever happened to Winona Ryder?

Keira doesn't do much for me, although she's fine in this movie; she doesn't need to do much but be skinny and smolder.

As for movie companions: Going to the movies alone is one of life's great joys, so if you can't drag the Cohens along just go. But they should come with; I think they'd both like it. Kaye, no need to worry about nightmares!

And Laur: Of all the books you have stacked up waiting, shuffle this one to the top and just read a few pages. I bet you'll be hooked.

Gina said...

well said, mister man.

yea, i thought it was bloody amazing. i'm reading the book, it is equally amazing. dario marianelli is my new favorite composer. and joe wright has been one of my favorite directors, but now i admire him even more.

the kid that played briony was absolutely perfect.

amazing, amazing movie.

Mark said...

Wow, a Gina sighting! Thank you for dropping by, missy.

When did you see it, last night?

How many gliomas?