by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

I'll have to tread through this one gingerly, because it's a mine field. It's a film which is one of the best-reviewed of the year 2007. It was honored with many Golden Globe nominations, including the big enchilada: "Best Picture, Drama." It is rated so high at IMDb that it will soon join the all-time immortals in the Olympus 250.

And I wasn't very impressed. I found it a good movie, but not a memorable classic.

Many reviewers cast their raves in the form of solemn praise for a faithful literary adaptation. Not having read Ian McEwan's novel, and having received no motivation to do so from this film, I have no way to determine how successfully the film transmuted McEwan's literary elements into cinema gold, but I could see some major problems right from the start.

In the film's first act there are events which are presented from two different points of view, the first time from the perspective of a 13-year-old girl, the second in close-up detail from an objective perspective. This sort of narrative technique makes a lot of sense in a novel, because a 13-year-old narrator controls every detail of what we see and hear. We only know what she knows, we only see what she tells us about in the manner she chooses to tell it, and our perspective is completely limited by hers. If we then re-experience the same events through the eyes of an omniscient narrator, or through the counter-perspective of an adult who was also there, we may be shocked and edified by the second telling. But a camera is not the written page. Although I may witness a filmed event from the perspective of a 13-year-old girl, I am still processing and interpreting what I see with my brain, not with hers, and I am filling in the missing details with my experience, not with her lack thereof. As I result, I can immediately see what really transpired and I can see that she misinterprets or misunderstands it. I don't need to have the events run through a second time. The director ignores this reality and plunges forward with the retelling anyway. And he uses the repetition device twice, with two separate events. In each case, the second perspective showed me nothing I had not already figured out the first time. It was just a superfluous device which slowed down a narrative which was already crawling at a snail's pace.

As a result of several misunderstandings, combined with some inchoate sexual jealousy on the part of the young girl, the brat ends up accusing her sister's working class lover of a serious crime which he did not commit.

His punishment for this crime is to be deported to another film.

It's a good film, but one completely unrelated to the one we have been watching.

The false accusation occurred in a stately English country estate in 1935. The new film takes place on the battlefields of WW2, in the events leading up to and including the historic evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from the French port of Dunkirk. Off-camera, in the five intervening years, our working class hero was imprisoned, then offered a chance for parole if he decided to volunteer for combat. His sudden appearance in a WW2 combat film serves to slow down the main storyline still further. Will the lovers get a chance to re-unite? Will the little sister find a way to achieve atonement for her false accusation? Well, I'll tell you ... as soon as I insert this 40-minute documentary about the horrors of war on both sides of the Channel. There is the misery and squalor of the soldiers being tended to in the hospitals back home. There is the grotesque misery of the soldiers in combat and in Dunkirk, discovering the mass murder of civilians, shooting their horses to keep them from the Germans, singing sad songs of better days, stealing from the corpses, coping with disease and starvation. There are some impressive set pieces, but they serve no purpose other than to delay the awaited resumption of the story we began with.

Say, just what is happening with those three people anyway?

Finally, after nearly two hours of a pace which would lose a race to tectonic shifting, the film resolves everything with a voice-over narration told by the erstwhile false accuser, who is now an elderly novelist. It's actually a brief response to a chat show question. Time expended: maybe a minute. Don't make the mistake of leaving the theater a minute early, because without that talk show answer, you lose ... oh, about 100% of the film's plot.

This film has an excellent chance to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. It may even win, because it has everything the Academy demands of a winner: impressive literary provenance, gravitas, British accents, and  unrelenting misery. It has some characters dying tragically young, and an old character dying of a horrible disease. It has an upright young man convicted of pedophilia and sent to prison. It has the actual pedophiliac escaping scot-free. It has horrible cousins with terrible family secrets. It has lovers frustrated and separated. It shows mass murders committed by Nazis. It pictures wounded men disfigured by combat. The screenwriter made only one miscalculation in his Oscar grab. At the end, when the 13-year-old girl has become an old woman dying of a disease which will soon cause dementia, the script should have arranged for the old woman to die of AIDS instead. That would have made perfect sense, because the character was born in 1922, and was played by 70-year-old Vanessa Redgrave, so a 1992 death of AIDS would have fit in ideally. Voila! Instant Oscar. Oh, sure, the film still has Nazi atrocities and false imprisonment - Mr. Schindler meet Mr. Shawshank -  but without the AIDS, it's only guaranteed a nomination, not a victory.


* details to be announced






It was nominated for multiple Golden Globes.

3.5 James Berardinelli (of 4 stars)
4 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
4 British Consensus  (of 5 stars)
85 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
85 (of 100)







8.2 IMDB summary (of 10)
B+ Yahoo Movies







Box Office Mojo. Limited distribution. Between five and ten million dollars.  Plus  $35 million


  • No nudity, but Keira Knightley stripped to her shift to retrieve an object from a fountain, then emerged soaking wet.


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a: