Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Cloud Atlas, dir/scr. Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, based on Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, st. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D'Arcy, Zhou Xun, Keith David, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant

Films that attempt to encompass a gargantuan slew of concepts, narrative techniques and styles are nearly always doomed to polarise their audiences. Maybe it's something to do with only being able to concentrate and absorb a finite amount of information during a given time. With a novel, you can pause, digest, skip back if needs be, return to it again and again at your leisure, consuming it in variably-sized chunks of your choosing. The problem with Cloud Atlas (and it is a problem) is that the film gives us such a wealth of interconnecting stories and an orgy of A-listers in different guises liberally strewn around the chapters, that sometimes you can't see the sky for the gas. The Wachowskis' adaptation of Mitchell's novel comprises six individual timelines ranging between 1849 to 2321. Within those timelines, the self-contained stories are inter-temporally linked to the other tales outside their timelines either narratively via character or theme, or formatively through the multi-role-playing of the actors. To this end, the frequent prosthetic- and wig-slathering that the Wachowskis' employ predictably works best when it's subtle or unnoticed. At times working like an unkempt Magnolia, replete with urgent melodic scoring, Cloud Atlas builds towards some kind of apex where the stories converge. The ultimate aim is, of course, to illustrate how actions and events can ripple through space and time and effect others' actions and decisions, yet to its detriment, none of the stories are very compelling. Additionally, aside from a commanding performance from Bae Doona as a replicant prole (in one of the film's more successful and sci-fi sections) the acting is strictly pedestrian and uninspiring. Yet Cloud Atlas does truly fascinate with its sheer scale of ambition. If the film complete underwhelms as much less than the sum of its parts, then it is also the scope and vision of the individual sections where the film also triumphs. As frustrating as it is to feel like you're watching six overlapping movies, the care, design and attention to detail applied to each component is undeniable and exhilarating. There is a great film deep within Cloud Atlas that exists in a different universe, a different edit that coheres more and confounds less; the one we are presented with in our reality is at best serviceable.