DVD Tuesday: Sex, lies and betrayal: the ravishing, heartbreaking Atonement comes to DVD!

I can't figure out why Atonement didn't get a little more love from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but I'm doing my bit to make up for it. It's beautifully adapted by Christopher Hampton ( Dangerous Liaisons) from Ian McEwan's devastating novel -- which I highly recommend reading; it's just as gripping after you've seen the movie because it's about so much more than what happens next and features top-notch performances.

Just don't expect the new Titanic, which is the way it's been marketed. It's not a glossy period romance; it's a gorgeously photographed examination of the ugly things people do out of ignorance, spite and ambition.

England, 1935: The wealthy Tallis family is gathered at its vast country estate on a swelteringly hot summer day. Eldest daughter Cecilia ( Keira Knightley) and Robbie ( James McAvoy), the housekeeper's son Mr. Tallis is beneficently putting through Cambridge, finally acknowledge the simmering attraction they've been resisting because it flies in the face of class proprieties.

Cecilia's sister, precocious 13-year-old Briony ( Saoirse Ronan), watches with her budding novelist's eye, putting together scraps of information -- half-heard conversations, an unsent note, a pair of brief, erotically charged encounters unlike anything sheltered Briony has ever seen and getting everything wrong.

Briony's false conclusions lead to tragedy: Later that night, a visiting cousin is sexually assaulted and Briony, who glimpses her attacker, swears it was Robbie. The consequences are devastating, and Briony spends the rest of her life trying to come to grips with the damage she did.

McEwan's novel and Joe ( Pride & Prejudice) Wright's film tell a bitterly thwarted love story with a brilliantly vicious sting in its tail. I think that the way Wright and Hampton stage the final revelation is clunky, despite the presence of the great Vanessa Redgrave, and for the life of me I don't understand while they didn't stick with the way the book does it: It's thoroughly cinematic and truly haunting.

But that's a quibble. Knightley, McAvoy (all but unrecognizable as the pallid, weedy lead of The Last King of Scotland) and young Ronan are all extraordinary, and Wright stages scenes of incredible precision and terrible beauty, including a long pan along the beach at Dunkirk, crowded with sick and wounded soldiers (including Robbie), carnival rides and vignettes of matter-of-fact wartime brutality. Some viewers took exception to that particular scene, claiming that its flashy intricacy pulls you out of the story. But trust me: By the time you get to the end, you'll realize exactly why it's done the way it is, and how it plays into the story's end.

Things to Consider:

Eleventh-hour revelations that change the meaning of everything that preceded them The Sixth Sense is a classic example -- can be brilliant or really annoying. Examples that made an impression on you?

Great books don't always make great movies why not?

What are some examples of great adaptations? What made them work?

How about terrible ones? Why did they fail?

Send your movie questions to FlickChick.

Hear Maitland on the weekly podcast TV Guide Talk.

See Maitland McDonagh and Ken Fox review this week's new flicks on the Movie Talk vodcast.

Previously in DVD Tuesday:


When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth


Michael Clayton


The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T

Shoot 'Em Up


A Mighty Wind


It's a Wonderful Life




All About Eve


Sweet Smell of Success

Daughters of Darkness

The Crazies

Blade Runner



A Simple Plan

Taxi Driver



Hot Fuzz


Ace in the Hole

Eyes Without a Face


Citizen Kane

La Jetée

Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)

Bob le Flambeur

Near Dark

Perfect Blue

Pan's Labyrinth

Les Girls

The Girl Who Knew Too Much

The Queen

Expresso Bongo

I'm Not Scared

Shocking Grindhouse Double Bill! - Scanners and The Candy Snatchers

Don't Look Now


Casino Royale


The Prestige

13 Tzameti

The Departed


Kiss and Make Up

Kiss Me Deadly

The Long Good Friday

What Alice Found

The Devil's Backbone

The Descent

The Devil Wears Prada

Pandora's Box

The Thief and the Cobbler


Panic in the Streets/Jack Palance Interview

The Pusher Trilogy



Sunset Blvd.

In Cold Blood