Movie Review – Cloud Atlas (2012)

Cloud Atlas, 2012.

Directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski.
Starring Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Xun Zho, Doona Bae and Zhu Zhu.

SYNOPSIS:

An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.

If ever there was a film that would test the limits of film criticism and analysis, it is Cloud Atlas: a meandering, swirling, talky movie of such epic proportions and ideas, it’s a test of steel and nerve just to experience it, let alone try to write a review of it.

The Wachowski Siblings, who over recent years have not only treated us to some visually stunning movies, have been keen to share their thoughts with the world. Be it religious, political or even trying to crack the keys to the universe and why we are here, they have become synonymous with over-complex and overly pretentious efforts of late. So it’s no real surprise that they found themselves making Cloud Atlas. With the support of Perfume director Tom Tykwer, this seems like a match made in heaven, even with the rich, dense prose that David Mitchell put into his award-winning novella.

Weaving a rich tapestry of people, places, time and space, Cloud Atlas charts six different stories through time. Beginning on the South Pacific in 1849 at sea with the crew of a venturing ship, it journeys through the 1930s, 1970s, 2012, 2144 through to an almost “after-Earth” apocalyptic 2321, as the remains of what was Earth has fractured into a tribal state.

The book told the stories in a Russian doll-like narrative, with the stories told in order before wrapping back on itself. Here, it’s in a much more film-friendly narrative and all the richer for it. It’s a beautifully directed and designed film, with all the visual style and skill you would expect from messers Wachowski and Tykwer.

As they move backwards and forwards through the stories, like the chords of the story’s Cloud Atlas sextet, they sweep majestically and gracefully through time and space. Disorientating as that may seem, the film never loses focus, as the directors intertwine the fates of those who purvey it with such grace, it’s hard not to be swept up in its visual majesty. It’s without doubt the most visually rich film so far this year, and will take some beating artistically to scale the heights that the directors have here.

Complementing the wonderful visuals is the cast, who have never been put through their paces quite like this. In various strands, and in various different bits of make-up, it’s hard to go in depth and describe the acting and actors throughout the film.

What can be said is this: Tom Hanks is Tom Hanks, assured and reliable as ever; Halle Berry gives her best performance since Monsters Ball; and Hugh Grant is great too, despite being very oddly cast as a cannibal in the 2321 strand.

Everyone brings their a-game here, but the standouts are Ben Whishaw and Jim Broadbent. Together in the 1930s strand, both play off each other brilliantly, with wonderful wit and warmth as musician and aide; separately, they continue this pattern, and both steal the show whenever they are on screen.

If there are quibbles, it’s in the film’s length: at a whopping 180 or so minutes, it feels like a long old slog at times. The 2144 strand, while visually stunning and performed well, is the most arduous to endure, and is the one story that could have had a little more judicious editing. In addition, some of ideas and themes throughout can at times seem overly preachy and “rammed down your throat”, as it a Wachowski’s stable.

Quibbles aside, Cloud Atlas can still stake its claim as this year’s most visually stirring film, almost magical in its imagery and settings, and will give plenty of food for thought for all after the credits have rolled.

Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★

Scott Davis

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