Cloud Atlas is finally out in the UK today after a long delay since it was released in the US last October. Here is my review of the epic film adaptation of David Mitchell’s best selling novel starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry.
Six stories over six very different time periods. All put together these stories suggest the interconnectedness of human life both throughout history and across races, genders and boundaries of power and exploitation. Sounds pretentious? Well it should be but Cloud Atlas smashes through boundaries to become one of the biggest and best epics of the century so far.
From the 19th century to the distant post-apocalyptic future, humans appear bound to both each other and to making recurring mistakes, but also to form bonds of kindness and cruelty that can create ripples of consequences through history.
In 1849, a doctor helps an African slave escape aboard a ship; in 1936, a young composer is exploited by his older mentor; in 1973, a journalist comes under threat while trying to expose the dangers of a San Francisco nuclear power plant; in 2012, an editor tries to escape from a nursing home. Then in the future of 2144, a clone-slave in Neo Seoul escapes captivity to reveal the disturbing truth of her society; and finally in a post-apocalyptic future, the survival of civilization on a distant planet is threatened. Somehow these are all connected.
Slavery is present in numerous forms, love blooms in unlikely places and the human capacity for good and evil is explored across time and space. From the slave girls of Neo Seoul to the African slaves of days gone by, exploitation is everywhere, the ability of power to corrupt and for the oppressed to rise up is ever present.
Directors the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer) pull off the impossible, transforming a book incredibly difficult to adapt into a visually stunning and brilliantly crafted piece of cinema. Some of the parallels and similiarities between the stories are made more obvious here than in the book and it makes for a more streamlined and coherent retelling, easier to follow and promoting themes to the forefront of viewers’ minds.
The choice to have actors taking on a multiplicity of roles is bold and brilliant. Though there are missteps (Tom Hanks' Irish gangster is a notable misfire), the idea that any actor can play any role, whether it be Black, White, Asian, male or female is central to the films thesis and despite the make up failing to hide the true ethnicities of the characters, the point is loud and clearly recieved. We are all the same underneath these labels we have given each other. Some have called it tasteless, but it is a brave and noble idea that on the whole succeeds.
Tom Hanks excels in some roles but dissapoints in others. Ben Whishaw emerges as a stand out, mainly as the young composer, but the entire cast admirably tackle their many roles, sometimes even completely disappearing under the layers of make up. Hugh Grant and Hugo Weaving also make the most of sinister characters, making memorable villains out of minor roles in a number of the stories.
Cloud Atlas is incredibly ambitious, an impossible adaptation that manages to capture the essence of the book and improve it with a streamlined and smart narrative structure. The directors have created breathtaking, visually astounding different worlds, taken a potentially pretentious idea and visualised it on a grand scale, both entertaining and intellectually stimulating.
There may be flaws and it may test some viewers’ patience but Cloud Atlas is an emotional and unforgettable piece of epic cinema.
Cloud Atlas is released in the UK on Friday 22nd February 2013. Watch the extended trailer below but be warned, it's nearly as long as the film!