I love it all. I look at it like the novel - three threads of a complicated story. I find it to be one of the most faithfully adapted films I've ever seen. And just as he did with Pride & Prejudice, director Joe Wright fills the screen with lush imagery that can be both breathtaking and heartbreaking. He also has a great ability to depict romance, something that many current romance films lack entirely. Small moments - one hand set on top of another, a palm resting against a cheek - he uses these details to speak volumes and with great success (he for sure has a thing for hands and the power of touch). It's lovely and subtle.
And his long takes. Oh, his long takes. They get a lot of press. When Atonement came out, nearly every piece of writing I read on it centered on the monumental complexity of that shot on the beach. This long take outdoes, by a mile, the few in Pride and Prejudice. It truly is something to behold (and a constant reminder to me why I could not handle working in production). Clearly, I love Joe Wright. I only wish he would stay in this pseudo-genre of sweeping storybook romance. I'm hoping his upcoming film, Hanna, starring Atonement lead Saoirse Ronan, will allow for some of the grandiosity I love from him.
The one thing - and I can't fault any one in particular, it's simply the nature of the story - is in fact the ending. In the novel, it makes sense. Briony, in essence, says, "you've been reading the version of Atonement that I wrote. Not the truth of what really was." On screen, this concept is somewhat jumbled. Almost, "You've been watching an adaptation of the book I wrote, and now you're watching reality" except we're still watching that adaptation. It's a difficult sell and I can understand why having read the novel is almost necessary to warrant that ending for a first time viewer.
That aside, Atonement is a marvelous film. It's downer ending prevents me from watching it again and again as I am so prone to do with movies I love, but nonetheless, it was definitely one of the best films of 2007.