Thursday 7 March 2013

Review: Cloud Atlas

Year: 2012 (Released 2013)
Directors: Tom Tykwer, The Wachowskis
Screenplay: Tom Tykwer, The Wachowskis
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Zhou Xun 

Synopsis is here

The moment I saw the trailer and read the blurb about Cloud Atlas, I knew what the film would become. If you were to find the date I saw the trailer last year, I stated that the film would polarise the audience, probably struggle to make what is considered a decent profit but become a much loved feature in its later life. Right now, it’s polarised audiences and just about gained back its 100 million pound budget. Now it's got a lifetime for people to look back and reflect on what it's trying to say.

I feel in ten years time, I will revisit Cloud Atlas to see if it speaks to me with more clarity. Right now, at the current moment, I feel its message gets lost. Cloud Atlas is heavily bogged down with its 21 Gram-style execution. While the latter film was more concentrated with its focus, the three directors of Cloud Atlas push the bar with its ambition, abandoning hand holding for blind faith in their conviction. If you've never heard of the book the film is based from and what it entails, you could find yourself just as lost as if you were to enter The Twilight Saga during its final entry.

Quite simply; Cloud Atlas doesn't suffer the ignorant lightly and demands you keep close watch at all times. The film cares not if you cannot stay with the pace. It's strange that such a film worries so little about its audience considering its central theme. It's idealistic (and naive) view that how love is the key to conquer all is something we've seen with simpler narratives, and Cloud Atlas acts as if all viewers read from the same hymn page. To say David Mitchell to the man off the street, will most likely get a conservation about Peep Show started, and yet Cloud Atlas plays as if the book is as well known as blue skies. This will not concern everyone, however, the film's disregard for simple entry points and hectic, mosaic like structure do frustrate. 

It's only once we get into the swing of all the narratives and arcs that we get used to the rhythms of the film. Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) beautifully composed score soon provides a solid motif to follow and as the film slowly pieces together we begin to bond and connect with a few of the many characters on display. Unfortunately, Cloud Atlas lacks the intimacy that can found in the likes Terrence Malick's Tree of Life, with the latter film saying more with its 20 minute creation of life (and perhaps morals) than Cloud Atlas can muster with its many multi-faceted stories and individuals. The fractured nature of Tree of Life also reminds us of our flaws and how those we love resonate within the memory. Cloud Atlas despite is huge scope, lacks the same kind of engagement.   

Cloud Atlas also has issues with of makeup and performances. I have little issue with the films "yellowface" claims, as the film's use of makeup do not debase or belittle. The prosthetics are key to the central themes of the piece and are clearly based in a similar realm to theatre. My problem is not all of it works. At times I was wowed at some of the work; other moments I was biting my lip to stop unintentional giggles. The same goes for the performances. I can't say that any of Cloud Atlas features Hugh Grant's best work. Same goes for Halle Berry who fluctuates from story to story and never keeps the same level of captivation. Hugo Weaving is also quite one note. Despite this, we must say thanks to Tom Hanks, Jim Broadbent and Ben Whishaw who either provide the strongest moments of humanity or humour within the film. 

But much depends on how you feel about the films pacing and time spent within the many plots. I felt like many bookworms who fret when their favourite literary works are adapted into film form. There's a feeling that the novel allows appropriately breathing space between certain arcs (of course you can put the book down), and allow other details to penetrate deeper. We need to get hold of these people and in essence to fall in love with them. Cloud Atlas did little to bring such a bond. As the pieces spiral closer together, with the films editing, visuals and soundtrack working hard to get the emotions to gel, there still feels like there was far too much leg work to be done within the opening segments. Such disorientation can make or break to a piece of work like this. But perhaps people like me just need a little more time.