Monday, October 29, 2012

A Reel Review: CLOUD ATLAS


CLOUD ATLAS is likely the most ambitious and non-traditional movie ever made. It is large in scale, deep in its own mythology, and different than anything ever seen on the silver screen before. It is six complete movies rolled into one; all connected with a philosophical thread which sometimes subtle and other times in your face. Students and fans of film will dissect it for years, but how does it play for the rest of the world?
Co-written and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, and based on the novel by David Mitchell, CLOUD ATLAS involves six different stories, all set in different points in history, including two in the future; one in the far future, and another in the far FAR future (300 years from now, after the “fall” of mankind). Within these stories are characters all played by actors, most of whom appear as different characters in each of the six stories. The idea isn’t that it’s the same character in each story, but that everyone’s soul carries on after death. For example, Ben Whishaw’s character writes a piece of music in the 1800’s called Cloud Atlas (a “sextant”, see what they did there?), and then in the 1970’s, the character he plays cannot stop listening to the piece of the music once he discovers it.

CLOUD ATLAS wants to push that theory, along with the idea that one pebble dropped in the ocean sends ripple effects which affects everyone. It’s a dense idea, but does it work on film? In a word, yes. Having the same actors appear in each story (although many of them are unrecognizable, more on that later) help you to keep track of the common themes and ideas, and the directors are clever enough to insert clues throughout the stories to provide that connectivity (everything from birthmarks to music cues). Sometimes the clues are right up front, sometimes you have to dig a little; but really not that much.
The acting is marvelous all around, with (again), each actor having to play six different parts, everyone really has to commit and vanish inside their parts. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Ben Whishaw, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, and newcomer Xun Zhou all put on incredible performances. Most of them completely vanish inside the makeup as they play different races (and opposite sexes), and it’s not until the closing credits where they reveal the players where you can recognize them, and more importantly, put together a few more connecting threads.

At a tad under three hours, CLOUD ATLAS gives you a lot to soak in. There a few scenes which could have been trimmed or cut (a few action sequences don’t seem to have much payoff or consequences), but the film never fails to entertain and its long running time is well worth the price (the finale has a great emotional payoff). From a movie-making perspective, a film like CLOUD ATLAS shows that your execution must be equal to your ambition, and on a higher level, will have you thinking on a higher level as well. The world needs more films like CLOUD ATLAS.

No comments:

Post a Comment

A few rules:
1. Personal attacks not tolerated.
2. Haters welcome, if you can justify it.
3. Swearing is goddamn OK.