Monday, March 24, 2008
I was quite excited to see Joe Wright's rendering of Ian McEwan's novel after seeing what he did with the classic Pride & Prejudice. It would probably have helped to have read the book to prepare for this film. So many people consider McEwan's work a masterpiece that there has to be something more to it than what we the audience get to see in the movie.
The story is essentially that of a poor young man named Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) who works as a groundskeeper for the rich Tallis family. He has ingratiated himself into the family and finds that the father is going to put him through medical school soon. Alas Robbie is in love with the oldest daughter Cecilia (Keira Knightley) whilst the younger one Brionly secretly has a crush on him. After Brionly sees two different scenes (that is suggested she believes Robbie to be a sex crazed attacker) involving Robbie causing her to think he was the one who attacked and raped her cousin. On the word of Brionly, Robbie is sent away to prison for two years and is forced to join the army during the early days of WWII to excape further jail time.
After the Robbie joins the army, the film loses all perspective and turns into an almost Terence Malick-like film. What was once an intricately told tale of lust and bitterness, deviates into a darker meditation that never quite works. Perhaps this is better told in the novel. Here, you merely get the bare minimum with a nice (or sad) little twist later on. James McAvoy provides the films only strong performance. Knightley and the two Brionly's are adequate, but hardly anything special.
Overall though, I felt quite disappointed with the setup to just have the story peter out the last hour. Obviously, Joe Wright has a lot of talent and that is further evidenced here. He has an eye for shots and backgrounds that is clearly among the top filmmakers. So I would suggest the problem lies in the screenplay adaptation by Christopher Hampton. Hampton's previous work like Mary Reilly and The Quiet American are both good examples of his mixed work. Hopefully Joe Wright finds something better for his next project.