Release date: 28th February 2013

Directors: Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, Tom Tykwer

Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, James D’Arcy, Ben Whishaw, Jim Boradbent, Susan Sarandon

Review by Peter Gray

Deconstructing a film like ‘Cloud Atlas’ isn’t an easy task and after my first initial viewing of the film I knew I was impressed by what I had just witnessed but it hadn’t entirely sunk in as to how I truly felt about it all.  A second observing helped sort my thoughts and made it slightly easier to process and allowed me to correctly mark my views.  In every sense of the word this film is a journey; a striving, soaring cinematic experience that will enchant, confuse, aggravate, thrill and mystify anyone who is willing to go along with it.  If movies are designed for us to escape to somewhere unfamiliar then ‘Cloud Atlas’ is your one-way ticket to a destination undiscovered.

Based on the novel by ,David Mitchell the film interlaces six stories through five centuries, all somehow connected, whether it is through a character, a possession or simply an idea.  Alarmingly it isn’t nearly as complicated as it sounds as even though you’re watching half a dozen stories (which can make it feel like you’re viewing six different films at the same time) the rate at which they unfold is effectively timed.  Also a benefit to the plethora of stories being told is the use of the main core of actors involved, each playing a multitude of characters over the course of the film.

Opening with an elderly Tom Hanks narrating a monologue that will set forth the series of stories, the film primarily appears to baffle its intending audience by playing a snippet from each tale, none of which seem to have any relation to one another, before settling in to its particular style of back and forth storytelling: In the South Pacific Ocean in 1849 a lawyer (Jim Sturgess) is set to make a deal with a plantation owner only to find himself battling a deadly sickness perpetrated  by a slimy physician (Hanks) who intends to steal his valuables, all the while assisting a stowaway slave (David Gyasi); in 1936 Scotland, a bisexual English musician (Ben Whishaw) endeavours to assist a past-his-prime composer (Jim Broadbent) with the goal of writing his own musical masterpiece; in San Francisco 1973, a determined reporter (Halle Berry) has her sights set on uncovering the schemes of a shifty nuclear power plant director (Hugh Grant), putting her life at risk in the process; in modern day London, a book editor (Broadbent again) is unwillingly thrust into an old person’s home on the back of a spiteful act of his brother (Grant again); in 2144 in ‘Neo-Seoul’ (Korea), a genetically engineered waitress (Doona Bae) learns the disturbing truth of her existence via a revolutionist (another role for Sturgess, this time sporting Asian makeup) and stands up for her own against the country’s fascist regime; and in the 24th century, simply referred to here as “106 winters after ‘The Fall’”, a meek goat herder (Hanks once more) assists a messenger from an evolved race (Berry again) in her attempt to find a communications station.

Even with that only the tip of each story is being scratched, as at nearly three hours ‘Cloud Atlas’ has plenty of time to cut back and forth between each chapter as they escalate towards their conclusion.  Working with such a bold concept, it was always going to be a tough ask for the directors, the Wachowski siblings Lana and Andy (‘The Matrix’) and Tom Tykwer (‘Run Lola Run’), to perfect this experiment but there’s clearly such a love and respect here that it can hardly be deemed a failure.  The drastic shifts in tone experienced with the changing of stories doesn’t always allow ‘Cloud Atlas’ to flow smoothly (the main culprit being the story set in 2012 with Broadbent in a retirement village feeling far too much like a farce) but the dedication and bravery of the actors involved, as well as the explicit attention to detail found in such technical aspects as cinematography and costume design means the film rarely has a wasted moment.  That being said though the make-up effects are at times particularly distracting – Hugo Weaving as a female nurse in the modern day segment is laughable, and the Asian makeup applied to the likes of Sturgess and James D’Arcy borders on stereotypical racism – and the dialogue ranges from being cheesy at times to almost undecipherable, namely in the 24th century scenes where Hanks and Berry speak in a short-hand dialect, but there’s an obvious sincerity in these factors that the filmmakers were hoping to achieve, so once again credit is given where it is due.

Thematically the film lands on its feet as it deals with the prominence of talent, the nature of individuality, and the everlasting influence of true love – but perhaps the necessity for freedom is what echoes strongest; from the lawyer who is inspired enough to become an opponent of slavery, to the futuristic slave who summons the spirit to publically stand up against a regime that has defiled her kind, the films biggest success is in its ability to showcase true heroism, and how one act can affect not just their own life but that of an entire race, in the face of certain death.

Since its release ‘Cloud Atlas’ has polarized audiences, and I can completely understand why, but whether it be a film you loathe or love, it should be respected for trying to grab our attention in a market saturated with uninspiring ideas.

My rating 4/5 (Unforgettable)

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