It’s not hard to pinpoint the key deficiency in Joe Wright’s Atonement, the critically acclaimed film adaptation of the Ian McEwan novel. It has all the elements one would expect from a high brow English tragedy – strong acting, picturesque cinematography, and an intelligent use of romantic music cues and sounds. But the script by Christopher Hampton rambles and repeats so many times the images, acting, and sound design begin to feel just as false as the words, creating towers of unearned sentiment weighing heavily without support. Atonement tells the story of poor gardener Robby (James McAvoy in a great role) and rich hottie Cecilia (Kiera Knightly) who begin a momentary romance only to be separated by a false criminal accusation issued from little sister Briony, set up via a number of convoluted moments of childish interpretation. This unrequited love haunts both Robby as he decides to join the British army instead of jail and Cecilia as she becomes a nurse during WWII. The story comes full circle when older Briony, now able to comprehend the scope of her malpractice, tries to mend the fences one key stroke at a time (she’s a writer, hence the creative imagination). Atonement flashes back multiple times, attempting to put some life into the material, and Wright’s direction of the early scenes are especially superb. But as the miscommunications and jealousies forge insurmountable odds for Robby and Cecilia’s romance, the heartbreaking writing appears on the wall. This film consumes itself with the obvious suffering of all involved, milking this genre trait dry by the final sentimental moment on a romantic English beach. It seems Hampton and Wright fell into the old trap of telling through words more than showing through visuals. Atonement beautifully captures the ache of lovers defeated by the injustices of false pretenses, but never develops a context for all the pain and anguish to mean something more than meager melodrama. The desperate tears, the screeching screams, and the outstretched hands seem altogether basic.