Posted by: kfugrip | February 12, 2008

Another Epic

A quick glance at the Wikipedia entry for Epic Films reveals the following:

“The epic film is a film genre typically featuring expensive production values, an emotionally moving music soundtrack, and dramatic themes. The name is derived from the grand themes, stories and characters of epic poetry, and is often used as a shorthand for “sword and sandal” films, although it can also refer to films in other genres, such as King Kong.”

Under normal circumstances I would not describe myself as a fan of the epic film. 2007, apparently, is not a year for normal circumstances as there are at least two films that I could fit into the category. The best and most obvious being There Will Be Blood, which I’ve written about here. The other, perhaps holding a more vaulted status, especially by the Hollywood Foreign Press, is Atonement, directed by Joe Wright.  My skepticism at Atonement being better than either There Will Be Blood or No Country for Old Men, kept me from seeing the film earlier.  I’ve decided to see a more Hollywood pictures (meaning films that use a more traditional structure and methodology) this year so Atonement is the first of these.  It was set up to fail in my eyes, however, due to my aforementioned skepticism.

Atonement is the story of Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley), and Briony Tallis (at various ages Saorise Ronan, Romola Garai, and Vanessa Redgrave) whose lives are forever changed by an event and a lie that occurs just before World War II. The lie follows the characters throughout their lives.

What I liked: I really liked the way the film was shot. When watching the preview it looked sentimental with longing glances and push-ins on characters emoting. I was surprised that, while those moments existed, they were well integrated into the picture. The long take at the evacuation at Dunkirk is another example of a “showy” technique that is well integrated into the film. I have read a couple of article criticizing the use of the long take in that sequence and while I have problems with it (which will be mentioned below) I think that the criticism comes from the shot’s insertion into a film that has very few similar sequences. There are many inserts of details in this film, like Cecilia’s bare feet close to shards of a broken vase, that I found beautifully rendered and seamlessly incorporated into the flow of the story. The same goes for some of the consciously composed shots (e.g. Cecilia on the diving board). The cinematography and production design were perfect for the story.

The performances were good all around, not distracting in the least. I believe the enemy of film is the distracting element and I was afraid that Keira Knightley would be distracting in this film. In fairness to her I haven’t seen many of her films (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, and The Jacket… both of which I disliked) but I find that whenever I see her I’m only paying attention to her mouth. There is something weird about it and I can’t figure it out, but it bugs the hell out of me. In this movie the distraction went away early so I was able to become involved in the story.

The ending, which I will not spoil, was pitch perfect and emotional. I don’t normally respond to love stories that are depicted with standard techniques. A film like Atonement twists this and leaves with an ending that is both self-reflexive and emotionally powerful.

What I didn’t like: While the long take at Dunkirk was interesting, and I liked it, I found it taking me out of the story at a certain point. If the film had included a couple other shots of similar length then it may have solved this. I also found the movie dragging during Robbie’s time at war. I know that this time is important to the film but my mind was wandering when the story veered away from the intereaction of Robbie, Cecilia, and Briony.

I liked the film quite a bit and if I had seen it in 2007 then I would have placed it in my top movies list.

4 stars




  1. good review. now you’ve made me want to see it damnit.

    what number would it have been on your top films list?

  2. At first I thought this was going to be a review of “Epic Movie.”

    The reason for the long take at Dunkirk was actually budgetary, not creative. I read an article where the director said they only had one day there with all those extras and it was the only way to keep the scene in the film.

    And Keira Knightley’s fucked up mouth is what makes her hot.

  3. Budgetary… interesting.

    I’ll have to take your word for what makes Keira Knightley “hot”.

  4. Didn’t you tell me “she could put her crooked mouth all over my body anytime?”

  5. No. But that’s pretty funny.

  6. Would you say shes got a “purty mouth”, boy?

    I think its her normal bottom lip in combination with her oddly configured top lip and Rock Hudson-esque jawline.

    Also, shes British.

  7. Also, as a fan of epics, I should really want to see this. But I dont. Everyone says its wonderful. But they say that about most things from Britian. And to quite honest, how many things from Britian are really all that great?

  8. Most things from the UK are either 10 years behind the curve, or 11 years ahead of it.

    I also thought that this movie was a review of “Epic Movie”. Then I realized that you review “movies”, and not “steaming piles of studio shit”, and so I proceeded.

    I do a yet-undetermined amount of bad things to Ms. Knightly. Most involving me, and a bottle of chocolate syrup. Mostly, I’d feed her. And we’d listen to Wu-Tang.

    Yea, where would this be on your 2007 list? I’m curious too…

  9. How many things from Britain are that great? I can think of a lot but how about The Beatles for starters.

  10. Oh and the director (David Lean) of one of your favorites Mike, Lawrence of Arabia.

  11. “How many things from Britain are that great? I can think of a lot but how about The Beatles for starters.”

    Well, for every Beatles, there’s 3-5 New Wave bands that can suckle on my taint. Also, UK National soccer sucks.

    Oasis is tops, mate!

  12. For every 3-5 New Wave bands that you don’t like there are 5 brilliant New Wave bands (New Order for example).

    Dropping Oasis into the conversation is like a red flag to a bull. You know I hate that band.

    I only come to Britain’s defense because I think it’s ignorant to dislike England (or Scotland or Wales) so much that you wouldn’t see a movie associated with the countries. I for one love British film (Ken Loach, Alan Clarke, Tony Richardson to name a few directors) and bangers and mash is a delicious dinner.

  13. Let me clarify some of my statements…
    -At some point, I shall see “Atonement”, based on your review.
    -I dislike new-wave bands with the intensity of a thousand suns. Pop-sync harmonies and keyboards playing the intro to songs like “She Blinded Me With Science”, are the lowest form of art and communication.
    -My bitterness toward the UK is harbored in the fact that I live with a supposed Anglophile, who hasn’t matured a day past his last week of college. He blindly ONLY adores anything British, and ONLY listens to certain music, and NEVER accepts the other side of the coin, or even recognizes that there may be another point in an argument.
    We suspect he may be a kid-toucher too. : )

  14. Thank you for clarifying. I disagree with only one thing. The lowest form of art and communication is Contemporary Country Music.

  15. Atonement bumps Sunshine out of the top 15.

  16. thanks.

    who would have thought…all this drama over Atonement?

  17. Did someone really just compliment British cuisine? Let me give you a frame of reference here, Donny.

    As I write this, Im listening to Van Morrison and The Chieftan’s Celtic Ray from their classic 1988 Polydor teaming, Irish Heartbeat. Great tune, amazing album.

    Youve named one great thing from Britian. The Beatles are nothing more than a boy band who found their hippie uncle’s stash. That mash you enjoy? Pulled from the mouths of starving Irish babies. Think about that the next time you see whats on the telly.

    As for hating Scotland, I married a fookin’ Wallace. Plus they killed Brits so good they made Great Britian.

    As for hating Wales, thats impossible. Its really South East Ireland. They maintain through the struggle despite being occupied territory. Also, Arther was Welsh. AND if you dont believe in dragons, Bernard Canniffe will stomp your ass out.

    Britian is responsible for bad teeth, ugly shoes and bad sunglasses. And Kevin’s roomate hits on high school boys. He likes smooth hairless chests.

    So if you like hairless high school boys, by all means, God Save the Queen. HAYYYYYYY.

  18. Also, did you ever review The Fountain? Saw it tonight on the BluRay. I like calling new fangled things “The”. Like “Suzanna, turn on the the high-def.”.

    Sudafed makes you high.

  19. Sudafed only makes you high if you get the good stuff from behind the counter. Y’know, when you want some Sudafed and there are boxes and then there are a bunch of slips with pictures of Sudafed boxes on them. Well, those slips are what gets you high.

    I am pretty sure I saw the Fountain in 2006, so I didn’t review it last year. It was alright.

    I wish I had a BluRay player.

  20. Wish you had a blu-ray? What? Aren’t laser-discs coming back? Just like vinyl, right?

  21. I haven’t seen the film. But I will comment on her mouth. It is fucked up. Fucked up to the point that I’m sometimes surprised that she can get the ‘beautiful girl’ roles that she gets.

    Even beyond just not liking how she looks, it seems to affect her diction, and that bothers me worse.

    These two flaws are enough to make me dislike an actress. I’m sure she’s a real humanitarian that donates a lot of her food.

  22. The secret to getting high on Sudafed is cutting it up, cooking it down and mainlining it.

    If youre looking for a cant miss flick, go see Atonement. Good night, Topeka.

  23. Also, my BluRay is a Playstation 3 (with a blue con-trol-er)

  24. I super annoyed 3 of my 4 disc monthly Netflix allowance has been used on 1 season of Battlestar Galactica. A. because thats most of the month down the crappier and B. its one friggin season.

    Battlestar Galactica.

    Looks kinda bad ass just floating out there doesnt it? Boo-ya. Science fiction up in this mother.

    Dr. Who

  25. Should I get my own blog?

    Adam do you take requests or submissions? Please review the films Helvetica and Bubba Hotep. 3 guesses as to what its about.

  26. I don’t do requests.

  27. Dang.

  28. Do you do this?

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