Okay, so it's a big family tradition round here on December 26 to go to the movies. First, we read the reviews and argue for an hour about which movie to see. A few of us opt out, others opt in, and finally we set out for the theatre at the last possible moment. Just to get that adrenaline flowing. This is all part of the family tradition.
And it was adrenaline we needed this December 26 -- along with a good, stiff drink or two -- to get us through our viewing of "Atonement," the latest period-piece-Brits-in-love flick that's currently in just about every local theatre near you. If you want to see gorgeous interiors of a British manor house, beautiful shots of Keira Knightly, and really good extra close close-ups of people's eyes as they have DEEP THOUGHTS, along with the naked subjugation of the British lower classes, this is the movie for you. If you were hoping to witness a plot that actually moves forward at any discernable pace, the exchange of feelings and thoughts between adults, and a final resolution of the film's conflict, you might as well stay home and watch the Simpsons. You'll definitely find more of the latter there.
Now, I would not be so snarky if I went off to "Atonement" just hoping for some fluffy entertainment. But when I read "Nominated for 7 Golden Globe Awards!" and "Already An Oscar Winner!" in normally reliable venues such as the New York Times, I figured that I was in for some real blockbuster drama -- and romance. I was quite disappointed to find that this movie about as dramatic as tepid tea. The central characters are so hamstrung by British stiff upper-lipness, that one of their more gripping romantic interchanges is "I'm sorry, I can't remember if you take one lump or two." I'm not kidding. There is more pursing of lips than a year of Mick Jagger concerts. Sure there is the "two young lovers torn apart" theme, but these young lovers have so little time or reason to be together, that it's hard to believe they shouldn't really be down at the pub chatting up some new prospects. Dickens and Shakespeare -- too Brits who gave us some of the truest conflicts amidst romance run amok -- would be, well, quite put out.
And then there's the gratuitous use of the suffering of others. Much of the movie is spent on witnessing the male protagonist wander through war-ravaged landscapes muttering about his lost love. Personally, with German snipers intent on murder and the ground underfoot rife with landmines, I find it hard to believe that this guy would spend most of his brain power reading love letters on the lam. Meanwhile, the female protagonists work in London hospitals, carting in soldiers with every manner of gruesome wound. This would not seem so unbelievable, if it didn't look so much like these movie-makers were exploiting the real tragedies of those WW2 Londoners just to sell a movie. But, that's exactly what this movie viewer was left thinking. It's all the drama and blood of "Private Ryan," but with no real point behind it.
As for the surprise ending -- which I know was a big selling point that got me in my movie seat -- you probaby discovered more surprising things under your Christmas tree this year. The ending, while somewhat unique, leaves the viewer more certain than ever that the puppet masters behind the screen REALLY were just out to pull your heartstrings -- and still only managed a short tug. The lovers never believably love and the central deluded character continues her delusion -- at great expense to everyone around her. Especially you, who just wasted $9.50. And that time you could have been watching the Simpsons.