Monday, January 7, 2008

10 Best Films of 2007: #7 - Atonement

If there was one film I was most looking forward to seeing this year it was definitely Atonement. Was this going to be a great film like I thought it could be? Or was this destined to be a butchered version of the Ian McEwan novel I have so much admiration for. I admit that my immediate reaction to the film was: yeah, that’s good. And I think I was disappointed in my own response to the film; I wanted to love it, and I didn’t. I was weary of the film, yes, but I was also counting down the days until I could see it for myself, and after all of that build up (mostly by me, and now by the Focus Films ad wizards pining for Awards) I feel like it’s not the film of the year I was hoping for, but it’s still an affective and beautiful looking picture.

Many people called this one of the most unfilmmable books, and I have to say I was weary of the film, wondering how in the hell they were going to translate that ending to film. But the film is impressive, in a David Lean sort of way. Which, I am not slighting the film, it is classical British filmmaking. Every shot seems to have been excruciatingly storyboarded and meticulously shot, and I found myself moved by the film (yet somewhat at an arms length) and I think part of that is McEwan. I just had finished the novel for the second time in preparation for the film and I think it was McEwan, not Joe Wright that was in my brain as I sat in the movie theater. And that's a problem when reviewing a film based on such a tremendous novel. It is not the novel I am reviewing, but the film and that is where Mr. Wright falls just a little short with his adaptation of McEwan. There are impressive shots for sure, especially one where a tired, wounded, and drunk Robbie is backlit by a scene from Brief Encounter in a movie house (there is also a scene that is straight taken from that film earlier on). Another shot that found my jaw agape was the five minute tracking shot on the shore of the beach – something that impressed me more than the shot in Children of Men – this shot takes you out of the film (much like I have always felt the details of the war does for the book) but it is impressive, no doubt.

But it left me with an almost cold admiration for it. The closest thing I can compare it to is the admiration I have for some of Kubrick's films. I am not a Kubrick fan, but I admire 2001, Paths of Glory, and most of all (his masterpiece) Barry Lyndon - which oddly enough, reminds me of Atonement. That's high praise and for its set pieces and cinematography alone, Atonement is one of the best films of the year.


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