Atonement, the film: quick take

So I did see the film Atonement today, and my quick appraisal is that it’s the film adaptation that’s closest to its literary source that I’ve ever seen (with an honorable exception to the long-ago TV series Brideshead Revisited — which was a 10 or 12 hour miniseries) — scene for scene, plot point for plot point, narrative structure intact, it follows the book exactly, even unto the metafictional postscript that reveals that the story we’ve seen thus far is — well, that would be telling, in case you haven’t read the book. It’s admirable, in a sense, that a Hollywood production would not shave off the rough edges and prettify the story into a conventional romance; at the same time, I can understand that NYT review that implied, basically, that if you’ve read the very fine novel upon which the film is based, there’s really nothing new to be found in the film version, no rethinking or restructuring for the sake of the dramatic medium. Yes, the acting is very good, and especially in the first half, the extended hot day in the countryside when the misunderstandings and ‘crimes’ take place, there are situations that, without the extensive psychological backstory that the novel provides, would be difficult to ‘explain’, that instead are conveyed by the actors’ facial expressions and the film editing — the scene where Robbie writes various versions of his apology letter comes to mind. At the same time, there are bits that are rushed, subtleties overlooked, an occasional subtlety from the text belabored for the sake of the film audience. These are all quibbles. If you haven’t read the book, it’s still a very fine film — I can’t see *not* recommending the film on the basis that it’s too close to the book — but if you have read the book, come to see what is basically just a very fine dramatic translation of it.

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