A decent but unspectacular war crimes tale is elevated above the ordinary here by the sheer calibre of its cast – including Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Tom Wilkinson and then rising star Jessica Chastain. In 1965, three members of Mossad, the Israeli secret service, are sent in to East Berlin to kidnap or kill a notorious Nazi war criminal, the infamous “Surgeon of Birkenau”. But the mission is botched. Thirty years later, the trio, now retired and feted back home as heroes, get a surprise chance to make amends. As it flits back and forth in time between botch-up and mop-up, the film exposes a curiosity of casting. No way would the actors who play two of the young agents grow up to look anything like the actors who play them in middle age. That distraction aside, the movie is an entertaining addition to the recent wave of retro spy films.
The often dazzling, special effects-driven slapstick tends to overshadow the fact that there are some slyer, more sophisticated laughs on offer in this blockbusting family comedy. Bill Murray is terrifically deadpan and sleazy as the dubious leader of a company of ghost busters (that includes the film’s co-writers, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, plus Ernie Hudson) who are called into action when ancient spirits are let loose in New York. Sigourney Weaver shows an admirably light touch as a possessed cellist, and Rick Moranis also scores in his breakthrough movie. Director Ivan Reitman stages some spectacular set pieces, including an enjoyably daft finale with a giant marshmallow man. The concept was so successful that the film spawned a cartoon series, and almost the entire team reunited for a sequel.
The kind of collaboration that seems designed to produce the perfect British film, this adaptation of Ian McEwan’s bestseller from screenwriter Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) and director Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice) actually pulls it off. Beginning in 1935, the drama pivots on the burgeoning love affair between privileged Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley) and servant’s son Robbie Turner (James McAvoy). An intercepted love letter, sibling jealousy and an assault combine to tear them apart. Their hopes of reunion are further complicated by the outbreak of war, Robbie’s conscription and the 1940 evacuation of Dunkirk – stunningly staged here by Wright. A handsome, heart-thumping, character-based love story, this is impeccably acted – Keira Knightley truly comes of age, blending cut-glass, Celia Johnson-like refinement and something altogether more passionate – and stylishly scored (by Dario Marianelli). Atonement transcends the expectations of its country-house setting, via the privations of war, to deliver a knockout twist that works better on the screen than it did on the page.