Atonement (2007)

atone2Without any prior knowledge and given what we know to begin with, it looks like Atonement will be a love story revolving around the characters of Keira Knightley and James McAvoy. They are, after all, the big stars in this WWII era romance based on the Ian McEwan novel. We expect to become enraptured in their passionate love affair that is to be indubitably broken up by war. However, it becomes evident very quickly that this is really a tale about a young girl  and budding author, played through the years in succession by  Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, and Vanessa Redgrave. It is her point of view and her part in this narrative that becomes most important, although we do not have any indication as to why to begin with.

So in front of the peering eyes of Briony Tallis, her older sister Cecilia (Knightley) and the son of the family housekeeper Robbie Turner (McAvoy) start something which Briony cannot fully comprehend and understand. What is it that is really going on around her? An intricate manipulation of time and place begins, relating the story from a number of perspectives, but always returning to Briony. How does Cecilia really feel towards Robbie, who is in a sense below her, but still proud? Briony knows she has feelings for the housekeeper’s son, but how is she to react when she finds her sister and Robbie crammed up against the bookcases together. Then, when a pair of pesky twins goes missing a search party begins. Again Briony sees something that she cannot fully understand, and yet she makes a judgment that will unwittingly tear apart two lives. There is constantly an inquisitiveness, a confusion in her expressions that is absolutely spot on.  And in these moments the score is suffocating with its pounding, clanging, and banging.

atone3Robbie gets sent away, torn from his love Cecilia, and Britain is on the brink of war. When the two lovers finally get a chance to see each other, he has joined the army in order to be released from prison, and she is working as a nurse.  But it’s a heartbreaking separation because although the passage of time is condensed for us, we can easily see the reserved, hesitant quality in both of them. How are they supposed to react? It’s difficult to hold onto the same feelings, maintain the same type of passion when you’re separated by the years. Cee reaches out to touch his hand, and he avoids her slightly. You cannot exactly blame him, but there is a tinge of sympathy for her.

But their romance is quickly renewed and heightened once more in a matter of days, only to have the war this time pull them apart. And it’s something that’s very hard to rebound from. Robbie ends up in the middle of France and when he finally discovers the coast with a couple of comrades they come across all the forces at Dunkirk getting ready to retreat. For those engaged with WWII history, Dunkirk was in one sense a wounding blow to the English ego, but also a testament to their resilience. The men are beaten and battered, but escape the Nazi onslaught to fight another day. And yet we don’t see the fighting. With a wonderfully dynamic tracking shot director Joe Wright gives us an eye into the tired and wounded masses. And it’s somber, chilling, melancholy, and still strikingly beautiful in the same instance.

atone5Back home, Briony is now working in a hospital almost as penitence for wrongs and soon the hospital is inundated with wounded from the retreat. She is quickly thrown into action comforting a dying French soldier with a penchant for the soft refrains of Debussy. Then, comes the pivotal confrontation where Briony, now older, faces her sister who has refused to talk with her. And Robbie is there too. Together they painfully and angrily point out what the young girl had done to both of them. It’s heart-wrenching to the nth degree and yet the final revelation makes it all the more painful.

Now many years down the line, Briony, who is now much older (Redgrave) and an author of 21 books, is interviewed about her final novel Atonement. It lays out the events of the whole film, and she explains her reason for writing such a story. She wrote it to be read by the public certainly, but most importantly she wrote it for Robbie and Cee. To give them closure and the dignity that they deserved.

So you see, it’s the book within the book really or more correctly Ian McEwan writing a novel called Atonement featuring a fictitious version of the same work. In a sense, I do feel manipulated by this film, but do I mind? Not really. I don’t hold it against the film because it tells its story with so much beauty and grace.

4/5 Stars

Never Let Me Go (2010)

neverletmego1The film is adapted from the novel of  British author Kazuo Ishiguro, who also penned The Remains of the Day. Having not read the source material, I was obliged to take this material on its own merit and so here it goes. This is a numbing, wistful, sorrowful film and the dystopia is set in England circa 1978 in a boarding school. That’s where we first meet the students at Hailsham, who are special individuals with an important purpose in society. They will grow up to be “Carers” and “Donors” in society so that others might be given life. Although it’s an important role it ultimately means a shorter life expectancy compared to normal individuals and they are completely isolated from the outside world until their adult years.

The main people of interest are Kathy, who quickly befriends Tommy, a boy who is often made fun of, and she is secretly smitten. But as time passes one of her closest companions Ruth steals him away from her despite constantly making fun of him initially. Now as they get ready to move onto the next stage of their lives at The Cottage, Kathy (Carey Mulligan) is noticeably still hurt that Tommy (Andrew Garfield) is with Ruth (Keira Knightley) and not her. That plagues her and tears her apart inside. You can see it in her eyes and body language, although she never says it explicitly. It’s there.

I must admit, not having read the novel, I have a feeling I did not grasp all the ins and outs of this world, but I did understand what this love triangle meant for those involved. Also, in the back of their minds, they know life as they know it will be ending soon enough. After years pass Kathy is now a “Carer” and is reconnected with both her old friends, who look a lot more gaunt than they ever did before. Ruth admits she should never have come between the other two and they do get together, but it seems far too late for another love story.

neverletmego2Never Let Me Go speaks to the transience of life, the limited time we have on this earth because in the case of these characters life is even shorter. It got to me with its melancholy and I don’t mean that it simply saddened my mood, but by the denouement, I felt deeply affected. Keira Knightley’s role seemed rather unextraordinary although necessary. The real interest for me was watching the relationship form between Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield before being quickly taken away. Then hearing the narration of Mulligan as she tries to make sense of this story and what has happened. On a lighter note, the hairstyles in the film are quite impressive with the bangs and whatever Garfield has going on there near the beginning.

3.5/5 Stars

Begin Again (2013)

beginagain1Unfortunately, John Carney’s Begin Again loses the unassuming charm of his earlier musical effort Once, with higher production values, bigger names, and a more crafted sound. However, it still rides easily on the charisma of its big-name stars Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo. They are two individuals who have their lives wrecked and this crazy, fractured mess of a city becomes the perfect backdrop for two equally broken lives.

The film opens with differing perspectives on one point in time at a bar in New York. Dan Mulligan used to be a big recorder label exec maybe 10 or 15 years ago, but now his partner has pushed him out because he hasn’t acquired any new clients in ages. He’s all washed up and his family life isn’t much better. He’s estranged from his wife (Catherine Keener) and hardly sees his teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfeld). Given the situation, he heads to the bar to drown his sorrows after an awful day in and out of the office.

beginagain4Meanwhile, Gretta James (Keira Knightley) arrived at that same nightclub by very different circumstances. She is the girlfriend of up and coming pop singer Dave Kohl (Adam Levine), but she has a penchant for songwriting on the side. It’s nothing major and yet she certainly has a passion for it. However, with increasing busyness and the fame going to his head, Kohl and Gretta have a falling out. The first place she can turn is her old friend (James Corden) and he invites her to a night of music which she reluctantly agrees to.

That’s how she ends up in front of the microphone playing one of her personal tunes for the mildly interested audience. And yet one man is very interested. Dan is almost pulled out of his stupor by the song’s beauty and he immediately goes over to sign her. She thinks it’s a joke or at least she’s not at all interested in the fame. She independent and she wants to keep her work her own.

But he’s eventually able to cajole her into a unique musical endeavor. They won’t record her songs in your typical studio, but instead, all of New York will be theirs for the using. Thus, the joy of music brings a ragtag group of musicians and aficionados together to make something special and ultimately beautiful.

beginagain5Gretta is able to straighten things out with her boyfriend content with where she leaves them. As for Dave, he gets back with his wife and there is a new found connection forming with his daughter thanks in part to his new friend’s undue influence. In some sense, this film has a Lost in Translation type friendship. Two very different people in two very different life stages, but they have one important connection. In this case music, and it could be made into something romantic, but it doesn’t force its characters into that.

I’m a bit doubtful that they had splitters back when Ruffalo was first with his wife, but what do I know? No matter, it makes for a fun jaunt through New York listening to the tunes of Sinatra, Wonder, and Casablanca. If you are a lover of music, Begin Again is a thoroughly enjoyable film. It begs the question, what do you do the music for? What’s at the heart of it? Is it about the money, the fame, or the pure joy that comes with creating and sharing your craft with those who you hold most dear?

3.5/5 Stars

The Imitation Game (2014)

09cf1-the_imitation_game_posterWhen you think of decisive moments in WWII the conversation leads often to D-Day, The Battle of Midway, The Russian Front and The Battle for the Atlantic. If Britain had been cut off from U.S. supplies the case could be made that The Allies would have undoubtedly lost the war. That’s where the Enigma cipher comes into play and along with it Alan Turing.

Alan Turing is one of the unsung heroes of WWII and in many ways the father of modern computers. He’s a big deal and it’s hard to make that point enough. That’s what makes it exciting that he finally got the biopic treatment and with a portrayal by Benedict Cumberbatch no less. It does not get much better than that!

As far as biopics go The Imitation Game is a polished period piece set in War-torn Britain spanning the years of WWII into the early 1950s. Visually beautiful, scored nicely, and generally uplifting, it feels as wonderfully English as a cup of tea and the English countryside. Although the film at times may trod the typical path of other troubled-genius type films,  it often rises above the usual based-on-a-true-story fray. A primary reason for this is Benedict Cumberbatch who plays Turing not with dramatic outbursts, bravado, and bluster, but quite the opposite.
In the year 1939 Turing, a professor at the time, attempted to join the top secret project at Bletchley Park to crack the German’s Enigma code. He seems like an odd candidate for the job since he has only an affinity for puzzles and no knowledge of the German language, but that proves to be unimportant.
He has the right amount of vision paired with the obsession to come at the problem like no one before him. He does not just want to crack one of the tedious strings, he wishes to crack them all using a machine. It was absolutely unheard of and his colleagues discount him, understandably, because he is not much of a team player and far from a social butterfly. However, he discovers a worthy ally in Susan Clarke (Keira Knightley) who proves to be indispensable in his work as well as repairing his rapport with the team.
With the prospect of all his work with the machine being wasted and terminated, his colleagues back him up in front of his superiors. Turing has one last chance to succeed and someway, somehow he does. But success does not come without great responsibility. Once they have the weapon to counter the Germans they must use it cautiously only taking the most necessary steps. It becomes clear that there is a fine line between playing God with human lives and winning a war.
The war is won in the end, however, and the top secret endeavor is disbanded. Alan Turing is far from a war hero because few know what he did. His only label is indecency and he is given the option of imprisonment or hormones in response to his charges of same-sex attraction. A year later he committed suicide at the age of 41.
Cumberbatch is seemingly the perfect Turing with all the quirks you would expect. Except there are also traces of sensitivity and he so adeptly shows subtle emotions on his face. He was an oft-tortured man inside and out, spanning from his boarding school years to his post-war existence. Keira Knightley on her part is enjoyable as a counterpoint, remaining true to Turing no matter the circumstances.
Obviously you can always call into question the accuracy of these types of films and no doubt artistic liberties were taken, but all in all The Imitation Game did a commendable job of painting a picture of a man’s life in a very different age. Alan Turing finally got the credit he was due, and it was done with a great deal of sensitivity, heart, and even humor which mostly overshadowed any saccharine moments.
4/5 Stars

Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

c854d-pirates_of_the_caribbean_movieStarring Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, and Keira Knightley, the film opens with Elizabeth having her first encounter with Will Tuner and she also sees a mysterious ship. Now in the present, a man recently promoted to Commodore proposes to Elizabeth. Through a series of events she is not able to answer and then ends up meeting the notorious Captain Jack Sparrow. He is taken captive after a duel with Will Tuner. However, his mutinous former crew raid the city from their ship the Black Pearl. Elizabeth is taken captive and Jack and Will join forces to rescue her, while the Commodore makes his own arrangements. Once again they face the pirates and end up in grave trouble. Jack, Will, and Elizabeth all prove their bravery and cleverness. Ultimately, they are able to take down the immortal pirates and Captain Jack is let go once again. This film was entertaining with good action and enjoyable character. I thoroughly understand how Jack Sparrow has become an icon.

4/5 Stars