Friday, May 21, 2010

Atonement (2007)

Atonement is beautiful and so is James McAvoy. When I learned - way back in the day - that one of my absolute favorite actors would be starring in an adaptation of one of my favorite novels, I was pleased to say the least. I love this film but I often find myself in the minority. The divide seems to occur between people who read the book and people who did not. For those who did not, the feeling of having the rug pulled out from underneath them at the end seems to overwhelm any other opinion they may have had about the film. I hear over and over again "I loved the first half..."

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.

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