Friday, 3 May 2013

Film Review: Cloud Atlas (2013)

Director: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D'Arcy, Xun Zhou, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant
Running time: 172 minutes
Age Rating: 15
Release date: 17th February 2013 (UK)

Cloud Atlas is a triumphantly beautiful mess. By no means is it a bad film, it just doesn’t quite work. Cloud Atlas is based on a book of the same name. The book tells six short stories about seemingly un-related characters through different eras in time. The film also tells these stories but with a twist, it is telling them all at the same time. While the novel divided them into chronological order (i.e. after one ends, the next begins) the film runs them all in parallel, cutting between them at key points. Directed by the Wachowski's (The Matrix Trilogy) and Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola Run), it’s probably best to see Cloud Atlas with as little knowledge of the plot as possible.

It's quite staggering that Cloud Atlas even exists. Originally considered to be un-filmable and without Hollywood investment, the chances of the film being made seemed slim. However, thanks to the passion of its directors and a primarily German investment it finally got a release. One of the main reasons I like Cloud Atlas so much is because how unique and ambitious it is. It is a big budget experiment in film narrative and storytelling.  It's far more interesting than most big budget Hollywood films these days. Transformers 4 anyone?

The great thing about six different stories is the variation in genres and tone. One moment it’s a serious period drama then it shifts to science fiction, to suddenly change into a light hearted comedy. Jim Broadbent's comical escape from a retirement home cross cut with a exciting hover bike chase through the skyline of future Seoul is genius. This is held together by the editing, which manages juggle six stories unfolding and keep it interesting. It could be argued that it would get confusing, but surprisingly it does not. The individual plots are relatively simple and can be enjoyed without having to read to much into them, they become deeper and more complex with the accompaniment of all the others.

Part of the film's charm, is its dynamic use of well-known actors in multiple roles. While the stories are not connected by direct plot points the use of actors in different roles, thematic similarities and props all contribute to the feel that things are connected in a spiritual sense. For example, a pair of horn rimmed glasses appears on certain supporting characters suggesting how they are connected to from previous stories. In fact, reincarnation is a point the film explores and part of the fun is figuring out who the descendants of previous characters are. This isn't made easy either, as actors constantly shift types of roles. Tom Hanks begins the film as a villain, but with each story he is eventually brought down by his crimes and becomes a protagonist. The trick is that the directors want you to recognise the actors, even if at times they play characters of different genders or race. It adds to the sense that each story connects to the others.

The problem with Cloud Atlas is that it's much too long and drawn out. The six stories are each predictable. That isn't a bad thing, but when they slowdown in pace it feels like they are wasting your time. The punchy editing actually doesn't help in this case, as the slower scenes actually disrupt the flow of the film. The slow moments unfortunately also remind you that the film is missing that special something. It lacks the iconic edge that would have made it feel less generic than it is.

Cloud Atlas is the best kind of disaster. While it seems to be a financial flop, it’s an absolutely outstanding big budget experiment. It's a clunky creation that is fun to watch. While not a film that will be regarded as a classic, it's certainly a satisfying film that will leave you with a great big smile. Make sure you stay for the credits, as the film shows you who actors played. It's genuinely shocking and you realise that some people have been hiding in plain sight through the entire film.

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