Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw, Jim Sturgess, Susan Sarandon, Keith David & Doona Bae
Review Written By: Michael Dalton
If you love film then there is no way that you cannot at least admire and appreciate Cloud Atlas. This is arguably the filmmaking achievement of the year and puts films like The Hobbit to shame. This has six stories with a beginning, middle and end in the same time it takes Peter Jackson to start one. In presenting six stories as a coherent, thematically unified whole, there was every possibility that this film would result in a ponderous, pretentious mess (Some would argue that it has) however in the opinion of this reviewer, the trio of directors along with their fellow craftsmen and woman have managed to nearly achieve the impossible. At no point during Cloud Atlas was I bored and while at certain times I may have had brief moments of confusion, I never felt lost, or that I was in chaotic or untrustworthy storytelling hands. The editing of this film is something to behold, not only are six stories brought together almost perfectly, however a film of this nature and this length, absolutely flies by.
There are some beautiful montages where the disparate stories are unified visually as well as thematically, being the shining examples of this film’s editorial achievements. However, as is inevitable with a film of this scope, there are times when the editing is rather erratic in terms of the length of time it gives to certain stories, with you going large stretches of the film without visiting a certain story, making it lose momentum, importance and relevance. There are also odd moments when tonally the juxtaposition is jarring, however such moments only stood out due to them being outliers in what was otherwise a very smooth operation.
A second of the trio of technical triumphs is the make-up. Part of the fun of this film is determining which actor is playing which characters. While you may think you have it all figured out, by the time the end credits roll and you are shown exactly whom each actor played, you’ll be lying if you said you weren’t at all surprised by some of the revelations. The fact that this stunning work didn’t even make the Academy Award shortlist is a shameful yet sadly understandable decision. This is make-up that like the film it’s within is very brave, sometimes to the point of foolishness and it does invite parody. Seeing the likes of Tom Hanks as a British skinhead and Hugo Weaving as a female nurse is undoubtedly silly. However despite this film’s attempts to be profound, it concurrently has a rather playful tone, best exemplified by one of its six stories focusing on an escape from an old people’s home. A story that while refreshingly light, is tonally at odds with the rest of the piece and has a conclusion which could have been much more satisfying and the emotional highlight of the film, had we actually seen it occur (Trying to avoid spoilers here, I could write an equally long if not longer spoiler-filled piece on the details of this film’s plot).
Therefore while that story is perhaps one that could fall under the cutting knife, I found myself coming to the realization that all these stories complement each other and taking out one cog would completely disrupt the wheel. A criticism I expected to have was that six stories was not necessary and the film could have been shorter. While that may remain the case, I cannot tell you which story I would cut out, only the ones I wouldn’t cut out and ultimately through the construction of the piece, I genuinely believe that taking out one (Even the escape from the old people’s home, which I see as mishandled rather than unnecessary) would have a negative effect on the whole…although a positive effect on my bottom.
The third and final technical triumph (Along with editing and make-up) is this film’s original score. Music is a huge part of this film in terms of its narrative and in terms of its enjoyment and accomplishments. This is a score that I will be listening to for a very long time. The visual effects are also top notch as you would expect, with the futuristic sequences being nothing short of beautiful, which will leave you wishing that you could see the film on an even bigger screen. However Cloud Atlas is not just a technical triumph of editing, make-up, music and visual effects, it is also an intellectual and emotional one. This is a film, which is very smart and clever in terms of its construction and conception, with the screenplay being one that was surely incredibly hard to write, yet one that like the film must be admired by all these who appreciate, understand and wish to participate in the crafting of film. Cloud Atlas is a film that will have long legs, whether its people desperately trying to decipher and determine all its clues and connections, those who find themselves completely entranced by its philosophical and emotional musings, or those who study the art of film academically and wish to dissect the labyrinth that is this film’s construction.
Ultimately, while each story has a definitive, emotional pay-off, not all of them moved me the way they could or should. A reason for this is that the sheer vastness and scope of the film does keep you at a distance. So much of the film was an intellectual experience of keeping up with it that by the time the emotion was meant to come I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for it. However that’s not to say it’s not satisfying, far from it, in fact for a film of this kind to have a more satisfying ending than more simpler films puts those simpler films to immense shame. However it is to say that the tears weren’t flowing the way they might for others, or the way they could on repeat viewings when one can allow the film to wash over them, without having to concern themselves with, what it all means. The heart was significantly warmed however.
In regards to the performances, Ben Whishaw was the standout for me as a young composer. With this and his role in Skyfall, Whishaw has had a great year and I cannot wait to see what he does in the future. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry are the two biggest names in the film and each fulfill their multiple roles effectively. I felt however, on a first viewing at least, that due to the unique nature of this film, no one actor can truly dominate or steal the film the way actors usually can. The star of this film is the film. And if you were to push me to name the standout, it would be the folk behind rather than in front of the camera.
Overall, Cloud Atlas is not perfect. It does have its silly moments, it is long, it could lose a story, it could even lose certain characters (Did we need the ‘funny’ kid in the 1970s San Francisco Halle Berry storyline?) and due to its nature it may not quite instigate the emotions it ultimately tries to. However this is a film that must be admired for its bravery and ambition. However admiration alone is not enough for recommendation and I understand that. This film is also incredibly enjoyable to watch and I found myself engaged throughout. This is a film, which contains in particular fields some of the best work of the year and one that overall is incredibly accomplished, if not quite perfect. It has a simple message underneath it, something that many will criticize it for considering the complexity of its construction, however it is something that was necessary precisely for that reason. The more I think about this film, the more I like it and the more I want to see it again. And I know that the second viewing will not be my last. Additionally, as somebody who is seventeen years old, this is a film I feel I will grow to appreciate in different ways at different stages of my life, and something that I will see become a cult classic.
By Movie Parliament Prime Minister,
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