Thursday, 28 February 2013
FILM REVIEW: CLOUD ATLAS
Six storylines, six different time frames, three directors and one award-winning book. That book would be Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell's Booker Prize shortlisted novel spanning centuries of human existence, and which, in the hands of directors Tom Tykwer, and Andy and Lana Wachowksi, becomes Cloud Atlas, a movie so bold and ambitious that it can only best be described in its simplest terms and thus dealt a great disservice as a result.
In 1849 in the South Pacific, an American lawyer, Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), is faced with the harsh reality of slavery whilst grappling with an illness which may prevent him returning to his beloved wife. In 1936, Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw), an ambitious but penniless composer becomes an understudy to a famed composer (Jim Broadbent), the collaboration firing his own creative juices and the writing of The Cloud Atlas Sextet. And In 1973, journalist Luisa Ray (Halle Berry) begins a perilous investigation into a conspiracy involving a nuclear power plant.
In 2012, book publisher, Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent), goes into hiding after defrauding his criminal-turned-author client. In 2144 in Neo-Seoul, Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae), a replicant genetically engineered to serve, develops free will and poses a political problem for the establishment. And in 2346, in a time which is described as 'After the Fall' and cannibalistic hordes terrorize the indigenous tribes, a goatherder named Zachry (Tom Hanks) helps an off-world emissary (Halle Berry) venture to a fallen city to uncover its secrets.
Each of these stories is linked, thematically and by use of a recurring motif: a distinct birthmark resembling a shooting star. But in each story that birthmark appears by turns on a male then a female; Caucasian then alternately Asian or black. The conceit is to have the same actors appear in several of the stories, not only with different levels of importance but heavily made-up, often to appear unrecognisable, and sometimes changing gender and race. (This also includes Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant.)
Cloud Atlas deals with themes of human interconnectedness, through shared history, reincarnation, and storytelling (the film is bookended by an old man telling a tale by the light of a campfire). It is also a film about film: each story represents a different genre -- period, thriller, farce, sci-fi -- and the repetition of actors is as much a nod to the art of acting -- a great feat and a grand folly, just as in last year's Holy Motors -- as it is the theme of the continuation of the soul.
You don't necessarily have to believe in reincarnation to believe in Cloud Atlas, but if you accept the notion of the soul as transient and everlasting -- and the body, be it male or female, Caucasian, African or Asian, as merely a vessel -- then you'll be more willing to embrace the film's conceit of the actors playing multiple parts.
Kudos to the make-up, production design and visual effects teams for vividly creating six different worlds and their people. Special mention should also go to cinematographers, John Toll and Frank Griebe, who beautifully capture each story, and Tykwer, who along with Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek, composed the score which is such an integral component of Cloud Atlas. That none of them were nominated for the 2012 Academy Awards says a lot for the decision making processes of each specialised branch within the Academy.
Cloud Atlas is also (but not only) about our debt to future generations. "Through each crime and every kindness, we birth our future", says one character. In this film, and specifically in the 1849 and 2144 segments, that means doing what is right no matter how difficult or dangerous. Both of those aforementioned segments deal with slavery, which sees Cloud Atlas fit perfectly within the cinematic narrative of 2012 alongside Django Unchained and Lincoln. 'Right will out' and 'love will find a way' may sound like trite sentiments but that doesn't make them any less important or worth heeding.
That's not to say Cloud Atlas is perfect or even a masterpiece. Tykwer and the Wachowskis, directing three segments each, may not always succeed in making the connections between the narratives entirely clear, and their reach more often than not exceeds their grasp. But when it succeeds, Cloud Atlas is truly magical.