Joe Wright. Wright burst onto the scene in 2005 with sweeping camera movements in Pride in Prejudice. What a surprise- who wanted another Pride and Prejudice adaptation starring Keira Knightley at the time? At age 33 it is one of the better debut films of the 21st century. Two years later with his sophomore effort (another big-time literary adaptation)— Wright gave us the stylistically muscular, highly ambitious, Atonement. I’d argue that only Steve McQueen and Ari Aster have had potentially better 1-2 punch to start their career since we turned the page on the century in 1999. Wright’s work since 2007 hasn’t fulfilled the promise of that talent and start- but still, at this point, we have a director with a bravura visual style (bold camera movements, masterful use of lighting and framing), a top 500 all-time film (Atonement) and two films that are in the top 100 of their respective decade.
Best film: Atonement
- Atonement is even stronger than Wright’s 2005 Pride and Prejudice which gives him back to back cinematically transcendent adaptations of very heavy literary works (this one from Ian McEwan)
- Big 4 star review from Travers
- Mindful sweeping art—it’s a painful tale of life and love cut short
- Oscar winner for best score—the use of the typewriter in the score is very inspired
- The cast is loaded with great actors (Saoirse Ronan, James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Vanessa Redgrave, Juno Temple, Benedict Cumberbatch… a small role for Jeremie Renier (usually works with the Dardenne brothers) – it’s a major accomplishment for Ronan, McAvoy and Knightley and their careers
- The use of repeating the narrative through multiple POV’s (McAvoy’s and Ronan’s) is absolutely genius and I love how Wright grounds it and resets it with the same shot of Ronan in the mirror
- Superbly crafted mini-montage of McAvoy writing Knightley a letter and them thinking about each other
- Accentuated sound effects—reminded me of Aronofsky—loud and blends with the score and usage of typewriter and other diegetic sounds from objects in the film
- Ronan’s character, actually all of the characterizations, are so specifically perfect. Her involvement with the disastrous (hard to watch) accusation of McAvoy is spurned by some jealously and lack of discipline. It’s all laid out in such splendid detail
- The Dunkirk tracking shot or “oner” is an all-timer. It starts with real acting in it- genuine performances. Then it goes to the shooting of the horses, the water, the countless extras and the ferris wheel set piece in the background and all over this is at the magic hour. It’s one of the best shots in recent cinema
- Absolutely nails the period detail
- The story suffers a little in the final act, about 90 minutes in (film is 123 minutes) with the older Briony character though I do love the epilogue with Redgrave
- Must-See/ Masterpiece border
total archiveable films: 5
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 1 (Atonement)
top 100 films of the decade: 2 (Pride and Prejudice, Atonement)
most overrated: Wright is probably the most underrated auteur of the 21st century. There isn’t a thing that’s overrated from Wright to date.
most underrated: This is painful. Atonement is ranked #26 on the TSPDT list of films from 2007. That’s absurd. What movie are these critics’ watching? Darkest Hour isn’t in the top 1000 of the 21st century and that’s laughable too. But if forced to pick one – it’s Pride and Prejudice. There are 55 films from 2005 on the TSPDT list for the 1000 best of the 21st century and Pride and Prejudice isn’t one of them—shame on the critics.
gem I want to spotlight : Darkest Hour
- There are really two stories here: Wright and Oldman
- For Oldman it’s a massive triumph. He completely disappears as Winston Churchill and, instantly, puts himself above other actors who have played him (Finney, Spall, Gleeson, Burton, Hoskins). Oldman is praised more often than Wright by the critics. Oldman is, truly, one of the great screen chameleons playing and disappearing into roles (this is the school of Paul Muni rather than the movie star (Wayne, McQueen, Tom Cruise) that forces their own personality on the character). Oldman plays Sid Vicious and Oswald). It’s a particularly good companion piece with Sid & Nancy as Oldman came in as the actor so authentic in his portrayal you couldn’t understand what he was saying and he’s the same way here with his grimaces and mutterings. Other heavyweight performances that come to mind are PSH in Capote and Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln portraying larger than life figures with such precision, power and authenticity. Those two actors won best actor their year.
- For Wright it’s a return to form after the disastrous Pan. It’s nowhere near as good as Pride and Prejudice and we’re a decade removed from his greatest film, Atonement, but it’s directed with real energy. Anyone who calls it a stodgy biopic wasn’t paying enough attention to Wright
- There are 2-3 slow overhead (going up) crane/tracking shots. They are computer enhanced (which is too bad) so I don’t really admire the craftsmanship but I do admire the formal element of the reoccurring shot.
- Often we get Wright’s rolling tracking shots
- There is a clear preoccupation of Wright’s camera with the typewriter—certainly that reminds me of atonement.
- Reoccurring shot of the stands of the parliament floor
- It’s manipulative but I fell for that subway scene of Churchill interacting with the common people hook, line and sinker
- It’s a different film, but in 2017 it still is a bit in the shadow (where it belongs by evaluative artistic comparisons) with Nolan’s gargantuan masterpiece also on the topic of Dunkirk
- Speaking of Dunkirk, Atonement’s greatest shot is of the shoreline—that wonderful long-take
stylistic innovations/traits: I said it above but Wright makes cinematically transcendent adaptations of very heavy literary works (at least in his first two films, his two best efforts to date). His camera gracefully rolls along with staggering tracking shots and if you asked me to limit his style to one trait- it would be his brilliant camerawork. The way he shoots the dancing scenes in Pride and Prejudice and the Dunkirk oner in Atonement—bliss– just genius. Yet, camera movement is impossible to capture in photography and look around the page here. The lighting in Darkest Hour is breathtaking, the landscape work in Pride and Prejudice, framing and set design in his entire oeuvre.
- Pride and Prejudice
- Darkest Hour
- Anna Karenina
By year and grades
|2005- Pride and Prejudice||HR|
|2012- Anna Karenina||R|
|2017- Darkest Hour||R/HR|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives