There is a lot of yearning going on in Atonement, and not all of it is confined to the actors on the screen. The movie itself, adapted from the Ian McEwan novel, aches to be an Oscar-friendly romantic epic, even if its best moments are the more intimate, delicate drawing-room scenes. Keira Knightley, reteaming with her Pride & Prejudice director Joe Wright, stars as Cecilia Tallis, a wealthy young woman in 1935 England on the verge of admitting her love for the groundskeeper (James McAvoy).
A tragic misunderstanding involving Cecilia’s younger sister (a mesmerizing Saoirse Ronan) gets in the way however, as does, well, World War II.
Although Wright shows considerable skill – there is a bravura tracking shot through hundreds of English soldiers abandoned on the coast of France – something is lost the larger the movie becomes. Atonement may awe you, but it ultimately does so from a distance.