capsule reviews: elizabethtown and atonement

Elizabethtown: Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst are terrific in Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown and it’s good to see them both stretch beyond their blockbuster franchise roles. But their performances can’t keep the film from succumbing to an awww and shucks. Elizabethtown, with its comical situation and colourful characters – including Alec Baldwin as the CEO of a shoe company – comes across as a bit of wishful thinking that gratifies on paper but ultimately doesn’t ring authentic. The event that launches Drew Taylor’s (Bloom) downward spin stretches credibility: could a single shoe designer really be the one on which to hang the albatross of a $900 million corporate loss? And what about Dunst’s role as saving angel? It’s like a depressed person’s self-affirming daydream, in which all of life’s grittiness is polished away by a forced cheerfulness. Elizabethtown ultimately suffers from a case of contrivance, with each scene manufactured for effect instead of rooted in a genuine psychology.

Atonement: The only quality that makes Atonement a contender worthy of the august company of The Assassination of Jesse James, There Will Be Blood, and No Country for Old Men is Joe Wright’s phenomenal direction in partnership with Seamus McGarvey’s photography. (OKk, to be fair, the performances are beautiful tuned too. James McAvoy especially shows himself better than trash like Wanted.) That long take of soldiers miserably biding their time while awaiting evacuation from the beach of Dunkirk is a masterstroke of surreal, moody, visceral film work. And that’s just the most obvious bit of artistry in a film defined by beautiful imagery. But while the film starts off with a knock-out tragedy, the film devolves into a variation of “it-was-just-dream” that undercuts the drama of later scenes. A bratty, stupid, inappropriately imaginative young girl is reintroduced as an old woman who is more aware, perhaps, but also cowardly. Atonement teases with promising scenes of characters squeezed through the ringer, only to fall back on a gimmick that undoutbtedly worked better in the novel. Great visuals, great premise, a resolution that is the very picture of anti-climax.

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