Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

All Apologies: Tired of That Annual Lump of Coal? Two New Films Teach That It's Never Too Late to Start Making Amends

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

All Apologies: Tired of That Annual Lump of Coal? Two New Films Teach That It's Never Too Late to Start Making Amends

Article excerpt

ATONEMENT

DIRECTED BY Joe Wright STARRING Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan, and Vanessa Redgrave FOCUS FEATURES

THE KITE RUNNER

DIRECTED BY Marc Forster STARRING Khalid Abdalla, Homayoun Ershadi, Ahrnad Khan Mahmoodzada, and Zekiria Ebrahimi PARAMOUNT CLASSICS

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REGRET MAY BE A POPULAR emotion for singers to shrug off (Sinatra had too few to mention; Piaf, none at all), but for high-toned authors, it's catnip. Ian McEwan made it the central engine of his 2001 novel Atonement and it's further elucidated in Joe Wright's dazzling film adaptation-a tourde-force of style, substance, and deep feeling. That combination is sure to make it an Oscar front-runner, but if the filmmakers walk away from the big night empty-handed, at least they can say they regretted nothing.

The film begins in 1935 England over the course of a long, pivotal day at a wealthy family's summer home. Thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) fancies herself a budding playwright, but she stumbles on melodrama outside her reach as she observes her glamorous sister, Cecilia (Keira Knightley), in a series of charged confrontations--and assignations--with Robbie (James McAvoy), the son of the family's housekeeper. Confused by her own limited perspective and her inchoate, pubescent crush on Robbie, Briony improvises a sexual accusation against the man that sends the family and film reeling, first into a 1940 interlude that flings the disgraced Robbie into war, and finally--and most audaciously--into a modern-day epilogue that finds the aged Briony (Vanessa Redgrave) reflecting on how a simple fiction could cause such real hurt.

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Actors of medium range but strong appeal, Knightley and McAvoy have never been better used than here; especially the former, who, with her spindly marionette's body and iridescent green gown, makes an irresistible plaything for Briony to manipulate. Wright first gained notice with his recent remake of Pride & Prejudice (which also starred Knightley), and Atonement makes good on that initial promise-his are costume dramas that energize rather than enervate. That strong perspective is necessary here because Atonement ultimately is a film about storytelling. …

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