QZ qz thoughts
a blog from Eli the Bearded

Atonement, and long single takes in general

I can watch a film like Atonement and notice that the arrival on the beach during a retreat in the war with its five minute single take meandering through literally thousands of drunk, wounded, hopeful, busy, lazy, working, and singing extras is a massive undertaking to have created. My wife doesn't even realize it is a single take.

How many people really do notice? Is this just some sort of technical masturbation that movie makers do, knowing the people in the industry will notice and it perhaps will help them award time? Or is it something that if not the average movie goer will notice, a reasonable portion will?

I see them, and I appreciate the effort, but I've got to admit this sort of stunt doesn't really seem to help many movies. It, to me, comes across as too artificial and therefore pulls me out of the story to get me focusing on the process. I'll interject by saying, I haven't watched Russian Ark or that Hitchcock film that is entirely single takes (Rope).

It works when it supposed to be artificial, like the opening scene JCVD. It works when it is supposed to convey delirious joy, like the end scene in A Midsummer's Night Dream. In Atonement the intended effect to be total immersion in this sea of humanity in a state of swirling semi-chaos; a stark contrast to the days of near solitary walking the characters have done. Instead what I get from it is "Why the hell is he taking this meandering path through all that, past the horses being put down, past the vehicles being purposfully disabled, looping around a gazebo of soldiers singing to no one in particular?" Some of the things walked past make sense, as a place he might want to go, some of them don't.

So anyway, it's hard to comment about the impressions I get from most of the story in Atonement without spoilering the ending. I'll just hang my review here on the single take. Too much of the film is narrated from the point of view of ambiguous viewers for me to feel comfortable with this being Briony's story, but it is Briony's atonement (or hope thereof) that gives us the title.

Visually the film is impressive, if somewhat questionable about authenticity. Briony is the only character shown at multiple distinct ages, and they've done a good job matching actors and looks. (But how many senior citizens really are wearing their hair the same way they were at 18 and at 13?)

Three horses shot point blank on the beach out of five.

Final thought: no imdb links today because their website just says "D'oh" for me