MOVIE REVIEW: Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas-0081-20121015-96An A-list cast cross centuries telling six connected stories in one film, depicting the best & worst of humanity, our dependency on each other and the power of the “unremarkable individual” to make remarkable changes to our world.

Personally, I had never read David Mitchell’s magnum opus, and so had no pre-conceptions about whether it was a unfilmable book. Nor was I particularly swayed one way or the other by the trailer, which left me slightly bemused (and with hindsight, totally undersells the film). Cloud Atlas won’t please everyone – it’s long (nearly 3 hours), you have to really think all the way through, and it has its flaws. But it is a brilliant, magnificent masterpiece that will stand up to repeat viewing (much in the same way as, say, Inception), and it deserves to do well. Hats off to Tom Tykwer and Lana & Andy Wachowski for having the fortitude to complete their vision of this book on film.

Cloud Atlas is a Russian doll of a movie, a story with a story within a story, all linked by its characters, a piece of musical genius, a traveller’s journal, a narrative and a garment, all interwoven with every dramatic line that you might conceive: trust & betrayal, freedom & slavery, love (forbidden, unconditional & unrequited), fears & hopes, regrets & redemption, revenge & desperation. Many of these are portrayed in one of the central themes of the film, a quote by Russian, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “All boundaries are conventions, national ones, too. One may transcend any convention, if only one can first conceive of doing so” – it only needs a one individual (e.g. a Rosa Parks) to spark a revolutionary change, to clear out the cobwebs woven by maintaining “the natural order of things”.

At its core are the six stories, which span South Pacific slavery in the 1840’s, symphonic creativity in 1930’s Scotland, a ‘China Syndrome’ style journalism tale in the 1970’s, a humourous “publishing” based segment in London in the here & now, a replicant-oriented story based in dystopian New Seoul a couple of hundred years from now, and a post-apocalyptic finale resetting the timeline at the year 106. The stories are shredded and knitted together, but they follow the same narrative. You have to have your wits about you, especially as they use the same ensemble of actors & actresses to play different characters in several stories. The characters all share the same connected time-line, and this the main theme of the film, that “Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others, past and present and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”

And the actors are incredible. Yes, there are one or two shaky accents, but the ensemble of Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, and in particular, relative new-comers Jim Sturgess, Xun Zhou and Ben Whishaw (Bond’s new Q), and even Hugh Grant (yes – Hugh Grant!) is a casting master-stroke. They all picked up their roles, and there wasn’t a particularly weak performance by anyone. And they were ably abetted a superb support cast of others including Susan Sarandon, James D’Arcy & Keith David.

The effects, sets, costumes and cinematography are all first class, but none of it outshines the story or the acting, which is as it should be. The pace throughout the film was pretty consistent, with more compulsion in the dramatic scenes, but no real downtime that I felt made it “drag on.” As I said, this film simply will not appeal to everyone: although it doesn’t set out a particular political agenda, the right-wing probably won’t like it as it shines a light on ideas that contravene “the natural order of things,” and I do fear it will fall foul to at least some bad press because of that. But if you like films that make you think, or reflect on some of the more uncomfortable or disturbing elements of our history, present values, and potential future, as well as celebrating the difference that one individual can make, then set aside three hours for Cloud Atlas… you won’t be disappointed.

 

Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: SilverFox

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