Atonement (2007) Movie Review

By: Alex Phuong (A Toast) –

Ever since the inception of cinema, a popular film genre has been the epic romantic drama.  One of the most famous examples from the Golden Age of Hollywood is Gone with the Wind (1939).  Decades later, the release of Titanic (1997) prompted some critics and audiences to compare James Cameron’s epic romantic drama to other silver screen classics like Casablanca (1942).  Ten years later, Joe Wright directed the sumptuous adaptation of Ian McEwan’s celebrated novel Atonement to critical success (especially when it came to awards season during its original release in late 2007 to early 2008).  Atonement might not have achieved the same level of fame nor fortune as Titanic nor Gone with the Wind, but it is still a great example of an epic love story that can still sweep audiences off their feet.

A Toast

This film might have only won one Academy Award for Dario Marianelli’s original score, but its seven nominations were well-deserved, including one for the coveted “Best Picture” Oscar.  Some people felt that the Academy snubbed both Keira Knightley and James McAvoy when they both failed to earn nominations for bringing Ian McEwan’s star-crossed lovers to the screen, only to be torn apart by secrets and lies.  Saoirse Ronan also earned her first Oscar nomination for playing 13-year old Briony Tallis in this film, and her performance is arguably the best within the entire film itself.  It is really no surprise that Saoirse Ronan would go on to receive “Best Actress” nominations for the films Brooklyn (2015) and Lady Bird (2017) given her amazing talent.

Atonement is a bit tough to sit through given its heart-wrenching plot and its “R” rating, but its thematic elements and mature content are part of the reason why the original novel and its film adaptation have become modern classics within the twenty-first century.  It also features the horrors of World War II in ways similar to other war dramas like Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Schindler’s List (1993) while presenting a love story that is just about as beautiful and as tragic as William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  It has been said that romantic stories are timeless, which is probably the reason why films like Atonement still resonate with audiences even though some critics might label such stories as trite and vapid. Atonement is much more than just a romantic film, though, because it remains a modern classic thanks to the brilliant vision of its director, Joe Wright.


Joe Wright and Keira Knightley have actually collaborated in other period dramas including the 2005 film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (which earned Knightley her first Academy Award nomination), and Anna Karenina (2012).  James McAvoy also played the male lead (Tom Lefroy) in Becoming Jane, a film about Jane Austen that was coincidentally released the same year as Atonement in 2007.  Given the fact that the word “atonement” means “reparation” or “redemption,” hopefully the careers of Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, and Joe Wright will eventually receive even more blessings from critics and audiences alike for their contributions to modern period dramas.

Atonement (2007) Drinking Game

Take a Drink: every time Cecilia Tallis wears her famous green dress (which has been named “the best of all time” by InStyle Magazine)

Sip Your Favorite Drink Slowly: during the lengthy Dunkirk beach scene

And Do Not Be Sober: as this powerful film explores guilt, forgiveness, and atonement

About Alex Phuong

Alex Andy Phuong earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from California State University-Los Angeles in 2015. His love affair with cinema began after discovering Turner Classic Movies in the summer of 2004. His favorite film director is Woody Allen, and his favorite movie star is Kate Winslet.

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