Thursday, January 17, 2008

Atonement (and a slight deviation)

I am sick. Sick enough to have to cancel section, stay in my pajamas, and do little more than read and watch Arrested Development. But I suppose I'm well enough to blog as well. So let's start with a movie

I recently saw Atonement (***1/2). I read this book over the summer, and loved it. It's constantly engrossing and manages to span not just decades but genres, a task director Joe Wright can't quite achieve. Still, even if he can't quite pull off the material with the subtle dexterity of McEwan, he crafts an energetic and frequently lavishly beautiful piece of cinema. Like last year's Pride and Prejudice, the movie has a fiery energy moving through it, which works well at capturing the heady passion of the love affair as well as Briony's imagination. Yet, he manages to combine it with beautifully haunting images, powerful silences, and a finale that's effective in its bare minimalism, thanks to a knockout performance of Vanessa Redgrave's. Certain scenes stick out for the emotional effectiveness, such as Briony's attending to a dying soldier, or Robbie's mother at the arrest. But others stick out because of their obvious conceit, including an elaborate and poorly used tracking shot on a wartorn beach that seems to meander without giving the audience anything substantive, or a shot involving a lighter that seems lifted from a Tarantino or Guy Ritchie film. As I said, not everything coheres into a solid narrative here, but it offers a certain intensity that many epics assume occur just from the material. Atonement recognizes the ample gifts of McEwan's writing and gives it a powerfully envigorating treatment, the energy of which matches the way I ripped through the novel breathlessly.

And now a halfway related tangent on film music...

Atonement also features a fascinatingly inventive score, one that makes use of diegetic sounds like typewriters and cars, and then carries them elsewhere into the film. It may sound gimmicky, and it's certainly obvious (or at least it was to me), but it's also effective percussion that helps drive the movie forward. The typewriter also works on a meta-level, as the film (or novel) show in time. Other movies I've seen lately with striking musical uses:

The New World. I started watching last night, got sick, finished today. I love Terrence Malick, and really the star of the film is nature and cinematography. The score is pretty minimal, but what stands out is the repeated use of the Mozart K. 488 concerto slow movement. As a love theme. Between an Englishman and a Native American. Now, I love this movement. It's haunting and continually evasive of the expected cadences without every feeling all that heavy. But what it was doing here I'm not certain. My first instinct was that it somehow connected to the Europeans, but it seemed to be something else. More like melded cultures or doomed romance? But it's just weird.

Lust, Caution. I had problems with this movie. But one of the more amusing was a play in which they are portraying Chinese nationalists. And what do they play? Elgar. Nimrod. I guess it's stirring, but it feels funny to someone who knows the piece. It's not nationalist, and if it is, it's certainly not Chinese (unless they're nostalgic for the British colonialists?). Am I being too picky? Or should they do a little more thinking about this?


  • I haven't seen savages yet, but I too couldn't help but be drawn to Atonement's score. My favorite moment (probably one of the most jarring in the film) was when Robbie's mother bangs the police car and the banging just doesn't stop. Next on my list: Persepolis. Can't wait!

    By Blogger KG, At January 25, 2008 at 6:10 PM  

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