Movie ••••½ Picture •••• Sound •••• Extras ••••

At its core, Atonement is the story of a writer who re-imagines her life (and idealizes its characters) in order to find the strength to go on living. Working from Ian McEwan's novel, director Joe White has made an intellectually and emotionally riveting film.

The DVD is an achievement as well. The English country home and its grounds (where most of the early action takes place on a single day) are at first bathed in sunlight. As the story turns darker, so does the set design. There are lots of deep burgundies and dark grays, all of which are rendered with a fine degree of image clarity and shadow detail. As the scene shifts to World War II-era England and France, colors are intentionally smeary, presumably to illustrate the fog of war.

In scenes of the evacuation of Dunkirk, careful sound design places both the murmurs of the wounded and the bombast of war's aftermath in a convincing circle around the listener. Soldiers get rowdy, heavy machinery grinds, and it's all delivered with an involving degree of accuracy.

Besides a commentary by the erudite director, you get two making-of featurettes that shed more light than usual on the creative process - including a deconstruction of one incredible tracking shot that, from a technical perspective at least, is the film's defining moment.