January 26th, 2008
This is a very interesting movie which will probably win some Oscars. I recommend seeing it. I think I have to watch it again before I’m ready to say if it’s good or not.
Here’s what goes on in it:
The first part is like a Merchant-Ivory period piece, 30’s British country garden, with the very skinny and period-looking Keira Knightley (that soccer movie, those pirate movies) as the femme fatale. The surprising James McAvoy (Mr.Tumnus in Narnia, the young guy in The Last King of Scotland) plays the sexy Lady Chatterly-ish commoner - maybe he’s even the gamekeeper; I’m not sure what he is - who nails Lady Keira in the library, is observed by a waspish writerly little girl, and the next thing we know…
Nailed in the library
…he’s sprung from prison on condition that he goes to war. Cut to France.
Then it’s a whole other movie, what with hanging around at Dunkirk waiting for the little boats to come, only in this movie Dunkirk takes place at a carnival. With a ferris wheel.
The Dunkirk carnival
And the third act, featuring the writerly little girl grown up, is even more surprising.
It’s long and rich, and the first part especially is very beautifully photographed with an extraordinary, painterly symmetry.
I’m not sure if it hangs together as one movie and not three, but I’ll reserve judgement. And it has the most surprising of surprise endings (short of it all being a dream, like Dallas), which may or may not work. I’m not sure. I have to watch it again.
Anyway, you should see it once or twice. Anything this rich and complicated is definitely worth your time.
Later: OK, I watched it again. As with most movies it’s better the second time, because you know what’s going on.
That guy’s name is Robbie, and he isn’t the gamekeeper. He’s the son of the housekeeper. When he goes to war, Keira Knightley’s character (Cecelia) says to him, “Come back to me.”
That’s what women always say to men who go to war. I learned that from Cold Mountain, which has the same plot. (I like that movie, in spite of the ridiculous Nicole Kidman doing the whole thing in glamour makeup.)
The three acts are more clearly divided than I realized the first time around.
Act 1 = The British country garden.
Act 2 = Robbie at war.
Act 3 = The writerly girl, Briony, grown up to be a nurse.
At first Briony seems like the most sympathetic character. Everybody likes a little girl with an active imagination, like Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables. The problem here is that she accuses Robbie of rape, sending him to prison, and it is many years before she ‘atones’ for her crime. (Plus her name is ‘Irony’ with a B in it.)
By the end of Act 3, the elderly Briony is played by Vanessa Redgrave and the surprise is sprung.
I like it, but it doesn’t have the same effect on me that I think the filmmakers expect it to have. I’m surprised by it but not shocked, moved but not devastated. In the end I think it aspires to be a big, important movie, but somehow it just isn’t. It probably works better as a book. (It’s based on the novel by Ian McEwan, which I haven’t read.)
I’m not saying don’t see it. You should definitely go and see it, and you should see it twice, because if nothing else it is a serious effort. And they are not common.
Maybe you’ll love it even if I didn’t. And maybe it’ll win a few Oscars.