A work of absolute beauty, just an incredible film experience. I felt very much like i was watching a culmination of all the cinematic techniques created over the last century collected into this collage of styles and stories, all shot gorgeously and told and acted extremely well with an outstanding soundtrack that soared over each timeframe, frankly it's incredible how well such a gigantic project came together and completely absorbed me for the whole of it's near 3 hours.
Yes, admittedly some of the segments seemed out of tone with the rest (Jim Broadbent's publisher story was hilarious but was odd placed next to the other darker timeframes) but every little story had its own charm and emotion - Ben Whishaw could've commanded an entire feature with his own agonising tale - and the manner in which each was cut away and then blended into the next was done masterfully, especially the cross cutting of the stories into the same "moment" at points while linked by the voiceover, which was the best use of this technique i've seen. Honestly, for me personally this was a modern masterpiece and i will remember this for a long time. 6 years 10 months ago
It appears there has been no more divisive film of the last year than the Wachowski Siblings and Tom Tykwer's adaptation of David Mitchell's "unfilmable" multi-timeline novel; professional reviews have crossed the whole gamut - five stars to one star - Ebert called it one of the best of the year, Time magazine the worst. So, is it a "masterpiece" or a "disaster"?
I've yet to read the novel which Natalie Portman apparently handed Lana Wachowski during the filming of "V For Vendetta" inspiring this adaptation. I gather the central idea of the book is slightly different from this film version, but the concept of six nested timelines all closely interlinked and influencing each other is intact. In essence the film aims to show the progression of a soul through time, evolving or devolving according to the actions of the respective character, and positively influencing the actions of the main character in the next timeline (these characters are marked by a comet shaped birthmark, more than likely representing the person pushing things forward, making a difference, "blazing a trail" so to speak). And those six timelines are exquisitely created; a 19th Century ocean voyage, 1930s Cambridge/Edinburgh, 1970s San Francisco, modern day London, 22nd Century "Neo-Seoul", and post-apocalyptic Earth - 100 years after "The Fall". The visuals of "Neo-Seoul" are the stand-out, it's a sumptuously created work of imaginative sci-fi; equal parts Huxley, Bradbury, Philip K Dick with Blade Runner and TRON inspired visuals.
Cast wise it's a truly eccentric line up; you'd probably never expect to see this cast working in the same film as an ensemble but the surprising strangeness actually works well. Many of the performances are brilliant, and everyone gets a chance to shine at some point in the film playing up to six characters apiece, usually under a ton of make up. Some of those make up jobs are exceptional, some much less successful, but part of the fun is spotting who is playing what and working out who someone is. In a couple of instances you'd never know until the closing credits. For a technically sophisticated, expensive film it's a pleasingly old fashioned concept, depending on the versatility of the cast, evoking the multi-rolling of Alec Guinness in "Kind Hearts and Coronets" or Peter Sellers in "Dr Strangelove". Of the many characters we see Tom Hanks' future valley man Zachry, Halle Berry's journalist Luisa, Ben Whishaw's composer Frobisher, James D'Arcy's scientist Sixsmith (young and old), Doona Bae's genetic clone Sonmi-451, Jim Sturgess' lawyer Ewing and Hugo Weaving's embodiment of evil Old Georgie are all terrific, many are the central character of their respective times. What is fascinating is the way each actor's string of characters progresses or recedes - Hanks' characters take the longest journey from murderers and thieves to a scientist who tries to do the right thing to a superstitious tribesman who finds the courage to become a protector and saviour, finally he is our storyteller. Hugh Grant's unscrupulous businessmen and lecherous consumers eventually become a literal consumer of men, a mute cannibal. Hugo Weaving's string of bad guys ends up with him simply dwindling into a ghost of evil in a society's mythology.
Another exciting aspect is the fascinating, multi-layered connections between the timelines and the way they impact upon each other, to pick them all up would take multiple viewings. Names and numbers repeat themselves - the "fabricant" Sonmi-451 shares the numbers of her name with Luisa's apartment number (both a clear reference to seminal work of science fiction, independent thinking and revolt "Fahrenheit 451"), the number six appears again and again - there are six timelines, six main characters, Frobisher is writing the Cloud Atlas Sextet for six soloists, his lover is Sixsmith... What could be confusing and off-putting is mostly dazzling as long as you are prepared to engage in the film and pay attention; this is truly intelligent cinema, which has something thrilling to say about the impact of all our actions upon the world, echoes that we are unaware of, along with the permanence and importance of artistic expression in all of its forms. I was thinking during the film how the great visuals and the clever make up and crossing ideas were happening at the expense of actual heart, but then the emotional pay-offs happily come in the respective conclusions.
For me three hours in the cinema flew by, testament to how well paced and involving each of the stories are, each adding an element of historical romance, sci-fi action, broad comedy or political thrills as necessary and never outstaying their welcome. If I had to offer some criticisms I'd say the Riddley Walker-esque new language spoken by the post-apocalyptic tribe is impenetrable at times; some of the make-up is extremely distracting, there's a line of unnecessary prosthetic noses and bad contact lenses, and the attempts to alter Berry and Bae's features to Caucasian doesn't convince; Jim Broadbent is fine leading in his own timeline which is intentionally comic ("I know! I know!") but he borders on pantomimic elsewhere. This are minor issues in the face of the whole. I think it's a great shame that the mainstream awards snubbed this film so roundly and many have been put off by the mixed reviews from seeing this film on the big screen; I believe it will find its audience and eventually be recognised for the brave, sprawling, fascinating, flawed but exciting work that it is. I can't wait to watch it again. 7 years 2 months ago
Cloud Atlas is not an easy watch by any means, you need to prepare yourself to think a little and pay attention a lot. It takes its time building up because there are several plot lines and dozens of characters to develop, but when it goes off - WOW.
I spent much of the movie trying to connect the characters played by the same actor wondering if it was their soul living another life, and trying to connect the dots to follow that soul through time and see how their life experiences of the past made them who they are in the future.
I enjoyed the challenge of "getting" this film. Not as complex as "Upstream Color" or other existential films, but it was just twisty enough to have some closure and still be left wondering a little. 6 years 11 months ago