Monday, January 14, 2008

The Great Debaters and Atonement

Atonement won the Golden Globe for Best Drama.
[Double Click to enlarge]

This was a good year for movies. All of these are fine movies (well, we haven't seen There Will Be Blood yet). I didn't get a chance to post about Atonement yet, and we just saw the Great Debaters tonight.

Atonement stands out from the others by how it tells the story. American Gangster and Michael Clayton seem to have simply condensed their books into movies that told the basic story but lost the details that made the stories rich. Eastern Promises and No Country for Old Men both told there stories well. But Atonement was a movie. Yes, it was based on a book, but it used the medium of film to tell the story. The camera transcended the words skipping over time and then back to see how we got there. A significant part of the story was conveyed visually. And the story it told was about what happens inside people's heads. About knowing and judging but not knowing and having to live with the consequences. A powerful film.

The others were good films, but didn't take advantage of the medium of film nearly as spectacularly.

The Great Debaters had me shaking my head. It's a good movie. Americans should see it - to remind them if they knew, and to tell them if they didn't - of the history of race relations in the US in the first half of the century. It's a great way to learn about what happened. But the story is such a movie cliche - obscure school wins competition against all comers, and then faces "The Big School". We've seen it with football, basketball, spelling bees, you name it. And I'm not giving anything away because it is obvious what is going to happen from the beginning. The story is how it unfolds. And the actors, the photography, the story, all are done well.

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