Posted July 26, 2012 by Alex Moss Editor in Films
 
 

Cloud Atlas


Cloud Atlas was, even by

Cloud Atlas was, even
by its author David Mitchell’s (no, not that one) own admission, an unfilmable
book.
But
with the similarly unfilmable Life
Of Pi
a box office success, can Cloud Atlas compete with Ang Lee’s CGI tiger in a boat opus?

Spanning six key narratives, Cloud Atlas explores how
the same mistakes, victories and interactions ripple across time as humanity
evolves, always repeating no matter how far we progress or regress as a
species. In 1849, Jim
Sturgess
is on the brink of death aboard a slave ship crossing the
Pacific. 1936, and Ben
Whishaw
writes to his lover, recounting the events that led him to
compose the Cloud Atlas Sextet. In 1973, Halle Berry is an investigative reporter trying to uncover a
nuclear conspiracy. In 2012, Jim Broadbent finds himself trapped in a retirement home and
looking for ways of escaping. In 2144, Bae Doona is a clone worker who holds the key to her race’s
freedom. And in the distant, post-apocalyptic future of 2321 Tom Hanks plays a goat herder
trying to avoid a cannibalistic tribe, always haunted by a demonic apparition
played by Hugo Weaving.

With common stories, characters and themes flitting in
and out of each narrative, the directors, Tom Tykwer, Andy and
Lana Wachowski
abandon the book’s linear narrative circularity, giving
the film a more immersive and powerful thematic ideal. A masterclass
in editing and structure, you’ll find yourself playing ‘who is that actor?’ as
characters, played by the same key cast, appear in various forms
throughout. Bordering on the politically incorrect, the make-up
effects employed to blur the ethnicity and gender of the actors are stunning;
Halle Berry in particular as a Korean male doctor is both brilliant and
terrifying.

While this effect can be jarring, Cloud Atlas is one
of the most ambitious films you’re likely to see this year. Dealing
in epic ideas, the film toys with the concept of storytelling; Hanks’ character
opens the film telling his tale around a camp fire, Sturgess spends his time
writing his memoirs in a journal which Whishaw reads while writing letters to
his lover Sixsmith (James D’Arcy),
Jim Broadbent’s character is a book publisher-cum-author recounting the bawdy
tale of his time in a nursing home which is later adapted into a film inspiring
Bae Doona to rebel in a totalitarian future. Stories and characters
echo across the ages, mixing styles and genres in an existential
mash-up. From period adventure to Ealing comedy (complete with a
Hugo Weaving incarnation of a buxom matron), ‘70s thriller to Sci-Fi, Cloud
Atlas never sits still long enough to let you settle into one specific comfort
zone of storytelling.

It doesn’t always work, the leaps in tone often jar;
one minute Halle Berry is running from mystery men trying to kill her, the next
Jim Broadbent is bumbling around London dealing with stereotypically comic
gangsters, including a bizarrely cockney Tom Hanks, complete with gold chains
and earrings. Add to this a bum-numbing running time and Cloud Atlas
can drag. Darren Aronofsky’s
brilliant The Fountain explored
similar ideas to more emotionally powerful effect in a little over 90
minutes. You may leave Cloud Atlas thinking about the meaning of
life but the lack of emotional investment means that few characters last long
in the memory.

Despite its flaws, Cloud Atlas is never anything less
than mesmerising and Tykwer and the Wachowskis have created a visual
masterpiece; from the blue ocean of the Pacific to the Blade Runner-esque
vistas of the futuristic Neo Seoul, the retina burns with indelible imagery
that remains long after the film has finished.

The ensemble cast are stunning in each of their
guises, Weaving and Hugh Grant bringing
a panto relish to their villainous roles, Hanks and Berry proving their
Oscar-winning credentials, encompassing their separate roles to levels often
beyond recognition, while Brits, Whishaw, Broadbent and Sturgess all captivate
as they flit from character to character. If there is a standout
performance however it is that of Bae Doona. Best known to audiences
from Bong Joon-ho’s Korean
creature feature The Host, here
her quiet, subservient demeanor belies curiosity and inner
strength. Had awards voters been able to identify which actor was
behind which prosthetic, Cloud Atlas might have found itself with more actor
award nods.

Far too long and tackling more than it’s able, Cloud
Atlas is a film of huge ambition and epic scope. Like the music
central to the plot, Cloud Atlas plays out like a dream; captivating but soon
fading to memory, leaving an ideal of what has gone before. This is
one cloud that certainly has a silver lining.


Alex Moss Editor

 
Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com