Cloud Atlas – Review
February 4, 2013 12 Comments
Film Review by FilmFellaHenry – 9.5/10
The world of film can be a fickle mistress. On one hand, it promises to indulge your escapist desires, whisking you away to worlds far better than this; on the other, it usually delivers what can at best be labelled a mis-sold lesson in disappointment. Years can pass, auditoriums flooded with mediocre celluloid, the whiff of greatness a bygone memory. But then something amazing happens. A film appears that dares challenge the banality of its contemporaries, bold enough to restore the jaded palette of a schlock-weary viewer. A film that strikes a chord so deep and resonant that an audience is reminded, with gusto, of why motion pictures still remain the superior art form.
For me, that film is Cloud Atlas.
Spread across six stories that span oceans of time, Cloud Atlas (adapted from David Mitchell’s bestselling book) delves into past, present and future, linked together by a powerful overarching theme. Beginning in 1800’s slave-ridden America, we follow lawyer Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) on his journey to procure slaves from the Pacific. Falling sick, Ewing becomes subject to the ministrations of Dr Henry Goose (Tom Hanks) and encounters runaway slave Autua (David Gyasi), an experience that irrevocably changes his outlook on life. Jump to 1930’s Britain and meet Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw), a young aspiring composer and all round scoundrel. Planning to aid ageing maestro Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent) in creating his final masterpiece, Frobisher strikes an ill-balanced relationship where the fate of a truly timeless orchestration hangs in the balance. Jump again and we’re in ’70’s America, where plucky journalist Louisa Rey (Halle Berry) becomes embroiled in secrets, corporate subterfuge and murder, haunted by fragments of a familiar past. Now it’s present day and low-rent literary publisher Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) finds himself captive in an unusual prison after a lifetime of bad choices finally catch up with him. Cut to a dystopian future where synthetic humans are the new slave race, forced into unquestioning servitude to their ‘pureblood’ masters. But one fabricant, Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae), is different, set to usurp the assumed natural order of things and challenge the very foundations of modern power. And finally, we are in the far future, where a primitive humanity now struggles to survive in a world of cannibals and radiation sickness.
After reading what is possibly the longest and yet most concise synopsis I’ve had to write, I imagine you’re thinking: ‘how the hell have they fit all that in one film?’ It’s a heavy watch, I’ll grant you, in the sense that it does demand viewer effort to keep up with a particularly skittish narrative. Jumping between stories may initially seem like a confusing way of portraying such a rich plot; however due to the cyclic quality of each storyline, by the third act everything seems to fall into place nicely. And considering the film’s underlying message, such disregard for chronology is certainly appropriate and arguably the best way to retell Mitchell’s engrossing story.
But where the real magic lies is within the characters and the unconventional way they are used. Playing multiple characters of varying gender, race and age, Cloud Atlas becomes a showcase for performance diversity, such as Ben Whishaw’s transformation from dandy musician, to middle aged married woman, then a 19th century ship’s cabin boy. Although undeniably indebted to an incredible makeup department, the seemingly effortless transition from role to role is indicative of the actor talent on display and the according necessary directorial skills. But strangely enough, the player that impressed me the most wasn’t one of the main ensemble, like Tom Hanks, Halle Berry or Jim Broadbent… it was actually that awkward smug Brit Hugh Grant. Seriously, I reckon Cloud Atlas contains by far the best performances of his career.
You can’t review a Wachowski film without mentioning the visuals… and Cloud Atlas certainly doesn’t disappoint. From bleak tech-infused futuristic vistas, to high-speed, gun-blasting action sequences, it’s reassuringly clear the duo are in familiar territory. With a broad, bright colour palette and consistently good cinematography, Cloud Atlas manages to give each story its own subtle visual style that further helps segment the film. And to prevent the constant narrative transitions from feeling jarring, some intelligent editing comes into play, making Cloud Atlas run incredibly smoothly.
Finally I come to the impressive score forged by Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer. Essentially the film’s music is an elongated version of the Cloud Atlas Sextet created within the film, which is destined to be an enduring and influential factor within the story. Having to score something that actually lives up to this reputation is an appreciably daunting task, which if insufficient, would seriously undermine the film’s narrative. Thankfully, what Heil, Klimek and Tykwer have created is a fabulous piece of music, both lavish and simplistic, full of sweeping string melodies and powerful brass undertones. And for those who remember Run Lola Run‘s electronica driven orchestrations, take note that it was the same three composers who scored that film too: such a diversity in music production is impressive to say the least.
I think it’s clear from the above gushing that I really, really enjoyed Cloud Atlas. It has everything I want to see in a film: interesting high concept narrative, impressive performances, beautiful visuals and a score that I simply cannot stop listening to. And importantly, this is one of the very few films I’ve seen that surpasses the original source material.
But if I were to boil the film down to a single statement, it would be this: Not since The Fountain have I watched a film as thoroughly satisfying as Cloud Atlas.