The film received widespread critical acclaim, was a box office success and a major award winner: victorious in 9 out of 12 nominated Academy Awards categories; 2 out of 7 nominated Golden Globe Awards categories; and 6 out of 13 nominated BAFTA Award categories.
The film has a "Certified Fresh" rating of 84% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 75 reviews, concluding. "Though it suffers from excessive length and ambition, director Minghella's adaptation of the Michael Ondaatje novel is complex, powerful, and moving." The film also has a rating of 87% on Metacritic, indicating "universal acclaim". Chicago Sun Times critic Roger Ebert gave the film a 4/4 rating, saying "it's the kind of movie you can see twice – first for the questions, the second time for the answers." In his movie guide, Leonard Maltin rated the film 3½ out of 4, calling it "A mesmerizing adaptation" of Ondaatje's novel, saying "Fiennes and Scott Thomas are perfectly matched", and he concluded by calling the film "An exceptional achievement all around".