Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Alternate Best Actor 2007: James McAvoy in Atonement

James McAvoy did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe and a Bafta, for portraying Robbie Turner in Atonement.

Atonement is about a pair of star crossed lovers separated by a lie told by one of their sisters just before and then during World War II.

James McAvoy plays the character quite fitting for a romance novel of apparently almost any quality. That of course being the poor son of a housekeeper who works for the rich family the Tallises at whose estate the first act of the film takes place in. McAvoy kinda goes about playing this up in his interactions with the youngest Tallis, Briony (Saoirse Ronan). McAvoy attempts to project the charm of the easy going lad who does not hold perhaps the pretensions of the wealthier people. I can't say McAvoy wholly succeeds in this regard having a skeevy quality in Robbie, that perhaps could have been intentional, but I don't think quite works with the films intentions. If it only came across this way in the scenes from Briony's perspective I think that could have perhaps worked quite well in terms of creating her delusion, but the problem is McAvoy plays the part in the same exact way when we are given the "true" perspective during his interactions with Briony's older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley).

McAvoy plays the role the same way as he does not strike up a particularly sizzling chemistry with Knightley in their scenes together, even though that's very much the point in the scenes set in the mansion. The actions take place to show that they have this repressed desire for one another, but it is not effectively shown by either actor. It more of occurs and that's all there is to it. It's suppose to be even more than lust as well, even though the lust is already missing. There is something unusually distant about them in their scenes together and they never bring the power the romance needs to sustain the film frankly. Now it could be the point that remains very proper and very British, but I won't allow that point as the affections can be known even in a reserved way for example the affair in Brief Encounter, which I believe was the sort of film Atonement was attempting to be like. I will be fair I don't think they are terrible together, or anything close to that, but they fail to realize the crux of the film which is quite problematic.

The film eventually moves away from the mansion as Robbie must go into the military due to having been imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. The film proceeds to show Robbie's time in occupied France as he witnesses a few horrors while making his way to Dunkirk for evacuation. The film keeps the dialogue very to the point focusing mainly on McAvoy's reactions to the various things that he encounters before it seems he's going to be rescued and reunited with Cecilia. Well I can't say that there is anything that notable about what McAvoy does in these scenes. He's there, he's not bad, but he does not make any scene come to life by making that human connection within it. He's mainly just there in the scene, and really much of the time he could just as likely be an extra in the scenes since he does not create any emotional journey for Robbie even if it seems there should be one. Like the film McAvoy's work never seems obviously wrong, but fails to make the story truly vivid.

Much of the film Robbie is perhaps used to much as the sort of image of character in a British prestige picture, but not a real character. The most emotionally volatile moments we get from the character are when he directly must speak about his wrongful imprisonment. In these scenes McAvoy breaks down as one would expect Robbie should and portrays his intense anger and despair of his predicament, but it feels like the Macbethian sound and fury which signifies nothing. There is an oddly lifeless quality to the emotions as again there is an odd distance and disconnect in McAvoy's performance left Robbie's story something I did not care about in the least, which I doubt was the film's intention. When his fate is revealed it should be a devastating moment, but instead feels just like a matter of fact revelation. I don't hate this performance but as a romantic lead there's a distinct lack of charm or warmth you'd imagine from this sort, and as a portrait of a man's suffering it stays oddly cold.

41 comments:

luke higham said...

Same as before, Why am I not surprised.

luke higham said...

Louis: On Rewatch, what are your ratings for the rest of the cast.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Probably the most drastically I've disagreed with a review since Denzel in Flight.

Matt Mustin said...

Okay, I'm leaving my predictions mostly the same, but switching Reilly and McAvoy's positions.

Anonymous said...

I totally disagree. I think that he gives a truly heartbreaking portrayal, and he was the heart of the movie. I just loved him.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Oh well.

Speaking of Brief Encounter, I've actually started a new blog (under a Google Account, but I'll continue to comment on here under GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar just for old time's sake), the first performance I've covered is Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter, let me know what you all think :D

http://actorvsactor.blogspot.co.uk/

luke higham said...

GDSAO: I'm very much interested in your blog.

Anonymous said...

GDSAO: I've already commented and I'm really looking forward to read what's next :)
Louis: Anyway Louis I also disagree with you about the "reactionary" scenes of McAvoy, I thought that his reactions were heartbreaking, in his brief encounter with Cecilia before parting ways again, the war scenes... I just loved him. But oh well to each his own.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

@Anoymous, Luke, anyone: Feel free to make recommendations of what I should do after 'Brief Encounter', your opinion is highly valued

luke higham said...

GDSAO:
Guinness Vs. Oldman - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Olivier Vs. McKellen - Richard III
Olivier Vs. Hardy - Wuthering Heights
Hurt Vs. McDowell - I Claudius/Caligula
Davis Vs. Blanchett Vs. Mirren Vs. Dench Vs. Duff Vs. Richardson - Elizabeth I

luke higham said...

GDSAO: Make that Jackson Vs. Davis Vs. Blanchett Vs. Mirren Vs. Dench Vs. Duff Vs. Richardson - Elizabeth I

luke higham said...

GDSAO: Laughton Vs. Shaw Vs. Burton Vs. Michell Vs. Meyers Vs. Bana Vs. Harris Vs. Lewis Vs. Winstone - Henry VIII

GM said...

GDSAO: Kerr vs. Moore in The End of the Affair would be very interesting.

luke higham said...

Louis: Can I have your ratings & thoughts on the cast of There Will Be Blood and Melinda Dillon in Magnolia.

Michael Patison said...

Like everyone else, I found his reactionary scenes to be incredible. I was particularly floored by his reaction to seeing all of the dead women in the field. His scenes at Dunkirk are also stunning. He'd still only get a 4 from me because I found him boring in his early scenes until he's arrested.

Love the film, though. Tremendously heart wrenching and easily the best work Knightley's ever done, and that's not just because she's a mediocre actress.

Louis: if you didn't enjoy any other part of it, please say you liked the score at least. I think it's bloody brilliant

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Never really understood the backlash against Knightley as a mediocre actress.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Luke: I was definitely planning on Guinness v.s. Oldman anyway, as well as the rest of the cast.

The others are all very interesting propositions, although I still need to see Hardy in Wuthering Heights, and most of the Elizabeths and Henry VIII's. I will probably wait a while for the Hurt/McDowell one as I've yet to see I Claudius and though I really want to, I'll wait for a time I have more free time.

GM: That's a definite too as The End of the Affair is my favourite all-time novel. I will say now that for the timebeing Kerr and Moore are on an equal level for me, though I can't say the same for Rea/Cushing, and Fiennes/Van Johnson

luke higham said...

GDSAO: Just take your time, I'll not try and rush you.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

@kook160: Agreed, she's amazing in this, Begin Again, very good in Pride and Prejudice and Bend in Like Beckham, solid in The Imitation Game, Laggies, The Edge of Love, and I rarely ever dislike her.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

@Luke: No worries, I really like your recommendations.

GM said...

Hum, I can't stand Keira Knightly, not even here.

luke higham said...

In all honesty, I was a fan of hers when I was much younger, but I'm somewhere in the middle nowadays.

luke higham said...

Louis: Is there any chance, you could put the link of GDSAO's blog on the blogs you follow section on your profile page.

luke higham said...

GDSAO: More Shakespeare
Welles Vs. Finch Vs. Connery's Son Vs. McAvoy Vs. Fassbender - Macbeth
Olivier Vs. Gibson Vs. Branagh Vs. Hawke - Hamlet
Howard Vs. Whiting Vs. Dicaprio Vs. Booth - Romeo And Juliet

luke higham said...

GDSAO: Thanks, for liking my recommendations.

luke higham said...

Louis: Thanks.

Michael McCarthy said...

Hey Louis, just out of curiosity, who do you think you would have reviewed in his place if McAvoy hadn't been requested?

luke higham said...

Michael McCarthy: I hope its Brolin.

Louis: For the bonus rounds, I would also add Michael Shannon in Shotgun Stories, alongside the 4 performances, I mentioned a couple of days ago.

mcofra7 said...

Speaking of Shannon, thoughts/ ratings on him in Bug if you've seen it.

Psifonian said...

*opens post*
*reads*
*sees rating*
*nods approvingly*

Michael Patison said...

On Knightley, let me clarify. I do not dislike her in the least and do think she's excellent here. She has a terrific presence, charisma, and voice. For me, she's just eminently likable. Nevertheless, I watch some of her performances and think, "She is very enjoyable to watch, but I feel like I'm watching Keira Knightley acting happy/sad/contemplative as this character, rather than watching the character being those emotions."

Anonymous said...

I think that Keira can be bland occasionally (Pirates of Caribbean) or even quite bad (A Dangerous Method), but she's a very good actress overall, and she is very charming and can be great when she wants. She's very very good in Atonement, although I think she gets slightly overshadowed by McAvoy's harrowing work and Ronan's excellent performance.

luke higham said...

GDSAO: Have you seen Caligula, If so, what's your rating & thoughts on McDowell.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Louis, whatever Psifonian is paying you I promise I can double.

JackiBoyz said...

Louis I remember you gave a brief thought on Magnolia when you reviewed Tom Cruise but could go into a little bit more detail on why you thought Magnolia was great, also were there any stories you didn't think worked as well as others?

JackiBoyz said...

Also Louis what were your thoughts and ratings on the rest of the Magnolia cast except Cruise and Hall?

luke higham said...

JackiBoyz: Moore - 2(I find her performance to be the weakest aspect of the film although admittedly I also found writing wise it was the weakest as well. Moore is way overwrought here as she over accentuates everything she does. Her character technically should be intense but Moore's work always feels particularly obvious ACTING in the worst sort of way)

Reilly - 4.5(Reilly's really good by giving such a heartfelt performance, yet still always makes sure to be believable as a cop while be such a warm guy otherwise. I particularly love his offbeat yet believable chemistry with Walters)

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Luke: Haven't seen it in whole yet but from what I saw he was crazed enough and seemed pretty terrifying in his intensity.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Knightley - 2(I believe it's fairly well documented that I am not a fan. I found her particularly uninteresting here, as I did not think she did anything of note to make her character come to life)

Ronan - 4.5(The best part of the film as I found she actually managed to make her character engaging, even though the film's did its best to make you hate her, but showing she was clearly lying from the start. Ronan's performance is assured in the right way here as she plays Briony as smarter than she should be with more confidence than she should have, but still a child. She brings out that quiet vulnerability within her quite effectively, and breaks down in natural way. I especially like her last full scene with McAvoy where she shows Briony without any pretensions and just a little girl with a crush)

Garai - 2.5(I don't think she continued the story of Briony in a particularly interesting way and it does feel like a step down from Ronan. She fades into that same distance that McAvoy is in, and loses too much of the character's emotional journey)

Redgrave - 3(I don't know if there is an actress who has to do less than Redgrave to be heaped with praise. I do like her just fine here though as I find she manages to feel more connected with Ronan than Garai was, and delivers the twist well enough. I don't love this performance though, but it's good)

Cumberbatch - 2.5(Ah back when Benedict Cumberbatch wasn't that guy from anything. He's actually fine here in bringing enough of a sleazy creepiness while maintaining his manner as a rich cad)

Everyone else is either underused (Brenda Blethyn, Alfie Allen) or just forgettable.

Louis Morgan said...

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar:

May I recommend doing a Bond breakdown?

Luke:

There Will Be Blood can wait.

Dillon - 3.5(She's underused actually a bit as both of her scenes she's forced to be a secondary character to either Hall or Walters. Nevertheless she's still very good in giving just a wholly naturalistic portrayal of her character's understandable devastation at her husband's pseudo-revelation)

Micheal McCarthy:

Probably Tony Leung actually. Right not with Brolin I'm arguing with myself over the placement of the three men from No Country. I don't think Brolin is more central than Jones or Bardem so I'm of the opinion that they are either all lead or all supporting.

Robert:

I don't know Robert you should have seen the gift basket he gave me when I said I liked Alien 3.

JackiBoyz:

Well it's essentially Anderson doing his own Altman film although I probably prefer it over most of Altman's oeuvre. I think Anderson weaves them so well together and effortlessly earns his both his funny and very moving moments. I even love what brings them all together, which I think perfectly exemplifies the idea of chance started by the three stories. Although I must admit the three stories is my favorite part of the film. In terms of the stories I love most of them almost equally except for.....you guessed it Moore's. Maybe it could have worked, but her performance ruined it for me.

Hoffman - 4(I like this performance as it shows Hoffman playing a man without any tics, or even any major problems with his life. He's just concerned with another man's problems and Hoffman is very effective as this sort of empathetic figure who just wants to see the right thing done)

Macy - 4(It's weird to see Macy play a guy who's perhaps even more desperate than old Jerry from Fargo, although his character here takes less desperate actions. Macy's work here is perhaps the most extroverted out of the cast, and I think he's fairly moving in portraying the painful state of his character who seems stuck in his old fame, waiting to get out)

Robards - 4(He is not allowed to do too much, understandably so, but its a memorable swan song for the actor. Robards is heartbreaking in his major moment where he portrays the character's intense regrets as he lies in seemingly a final despair)

Blackman - 3.5(Although I think in his storyline the most powerful moment belongs to Hall, but Blackman is quite good in showing the kid growing nervousness as his predicament becomes worse. He does particularly well to indicate that perhaps he'll end up just like Macy's character if something does not change)

Grace - 4.5(An underrated performance within the film as I feel her performance is essential in playing off Cruise, as she stays as the steadfast truth against Dave's attempts to manipulate her in his usual ways)

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

*sigh* I always forget the damned gift basket.