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Movie Review: "Atonement"

This weekend, we await the Fukudome Decision, and in many parts of the country, the weather's going to be rotten.

That makes this a good opportunity for me to say: Go see this movie! "Atonement" is a wonder, filled with beautiful period costumes, great settings (from an English country house to World War II France), and great acting by some of today's best young actors (Keira Knightley, James McAvoy).

But the real stars of "Atonement" are the three actresses who play the protagonist, Briony Tallis -- first, as a 13-year-old girl, then as an 18-year-old who has reason to spend the rest of her life "atoning" (thus the film's title), and finally, in a virtuoso performance by Vanessa Redgrave, nearing the end of her life.

Here's the basic plotline: the 13-year-old Briony is a precocious young girl who has written a play, which is supposedly going to be performed by her and a couple of her young cousins, visiting at the English country house in pre-war 1935. The cousins are bored, and so Briony sets her sights on the activities of the adults in the house, including her older sister Cecilia (Knightley) and Robbie (McAvoy), the gardener's son who has been sort of adopted by the family, a brilliant mind who they have put through school.

Events are witnessed by Briony, which she interprets through her 13-year-old mind, and which we later learn through flashback and a different character's perspective, aren't the way they seemed. Then she does something (and unlike some other reviews, I'm not going to tell you what) based on seeing something falsely, that tears the entire family apart, and creates the reasons for the "atonement".

That brings the story into the war years, and director Joe Wright ("Pride & Prejudice") pulls no punches in showing us the horrors of war, both through the characters' eyes and through one incredible, long tracking shot which ends up on the beach at Dunkirk. Terrific stuff.

The real stars of this film, as I said, are the three actresses (Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, and Redgrave) who play Briony Tallis. Each hits exactly the right note for the character at the age she plays her.

There's already Oscar buzz for this film and when you see it, you'll see why.