Atonement has the rich look and wide scope of a traditional best picture candidate, but it is hardly a traditional film. It's a complex story told rather brilliantly by Joe Wright, using Christopher Hampton's adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel. James McAvoy is spot on, Keira Knighley is luminous if slenderiferous, and supporting actresses Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave all capture the inherent conflict of their character.
The only thing the movie was missing for me was heart-stopping tension. It strikes me as more about how people react to crises, rather than building up suspense before the crises happen. (I floated the thought that it might be the world's grandest, richest Three's Company episode ever, though of course that's a demeaning and inadequate summation.) It didn't have me on the edge of my seat the way much of Into the Wild did, for example, where even though you knew how the movie would end, any given situation would raise the question of how Chris McCandless would get out of it. Atonement isn't suspense-free, but that isn't really the movie's aim and to some extent, I missed that. I wanted it to rip at my heart more.
Still, I read the book a couple of months ago and though the film necessarily races through some of its events and leaves others out, it's a strong adaptation, augmented by the simply beautiful look. It doesn't capture all of the characters' inner turmoil, but it represents it fairly well. There's a brilliant aspect to the score that I don't want to give away - but suffice it to say, if it's worth keeping a secret about, it's good. I think readers of the book will be exhilarated by it, rather than disappointed as so often happens.
I don't know that Atonement should or will win the Oscar, but a nomination certainly seems deserved. I definitely recommend it.