Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cloud Atlas Review: My Take on the Movie starring Tom Hanks and Jim Broadbent


Last night, I was lucky enough to see a screening of Cloud Atlas,  the film based on David Mitchell's acclaimed book, which opens this Friday.  Cloud Atlas, the movie, is definitely not Cloud Atlas the book. It's as if the filmmakers took the novel, ripped it from its spine, tossed it up in the air and waited to see where the pages would land. Except that would be a haphazard result rather than the organic way the storyline has been woven together for the screen. (I shared a bit about the filmmaker's process during the writing stage in yesterday's post).
Tom Hanks as Dr. Henry Goose, Keith David as Kupaka
and Jim Sturgess as Adam Ewing in 1849
There are 6 different storylines, taking place in 1849, the 1930's, the 70's, current day, the very scary corporate controlled world two hundred years from now and finally, the apocalyptic 24th century.  Rather than having each story play out in the long dense blocks of action in the novel, the  filmmakers happily cut in and out, sending us from one storyline to another in order to deliver their message. I've never seen a film which zips from place and time and even genre and back again so blissfully.
You might think it would be too odd and too sharp a tonal shift to go from a ship in the south seas in 1849 to a nuclear plant in 1973 to a book release party in present day to Seoul, Korea in the 22nd century, a 'corpocratic' future where fabricants are created only to serve consumers and back again and again.
Doona Bae (center) is Sonmi 451
a fabricant in Korea in the 22nd century
If we are initially jarred, it takes just a couple of time swipes to fall in with the format and we begin to get the gist of the movie's message. We are all connected. The events of our lives and times are linked to the past, in ways we're not always aware of, and if we don't get with the program and learn from our spiritual history, we are most certainly doomed to repeat our mistakes again and again.
The filmmakers are helped in the delivery of this message with their genius re-use and recyling of actors in a range of roles in different time periods and even genders. Given director Lana Wachowski's transgender status, I would suspect this material had tremendous personal power and impact for her.
Jim Sturgess as Hae Joo Chan
Almost all the actors play multiple roles including tiny parts where we don't even recognize the actors playing them until the credits roll - I promise you will be delighted with Hugh Grant in a whole series of parts, and not a one of them the blinking, charming, self-effacing Hugh Grant you know from his films!
The directors made the point in last night's q&a that rather than objecting to playing multiple roles, the actors like Hugo Weaving who plays parts in each of the stories, including the role of a female nurse, embraced this stage tradition. And the audience's understanding of that theatrical tradition enhances and informs the production. That's a nuance that intrigues me because it's true, in the theatre we are used to seeing actors don beards and wigs and old age makeup. We applaud it. But in film we tend to see on the nose casting. In other words the 30 something male Asian actor will play the part of the 30 something male Asian character or eyebrows are raised. I think it was brave to use this ensemble approach, to have actors mix it up,  to help tell the world 'I am you and you are me and we are all together. Koo Koo Kachoo.'
Halle Berry as Meronym, Hanks as Zachry
 in a scene from 24th century Hawaii
And catch Halle Berry, when she's not the beautiful Luisa Rey to Tom Hank's engineer in the 70's, or the elegant  Meronym the elite healer to his Zachry the goatherd in the 24th century, as a little old Asian medical man, if you can. That kind of thing takes place again and again.
The whole point of this isn't just gimmick and trickery. It's a real effort to melt the lines between the genres and expectations which serve, in their opinion, to limit and constrict us. It mostly works. Tom Hanks has said he wanted to do something unexpected, Cloud Atlas is certainly that.


While the novel was for me, too dense and mystifying at times,  the film shakes off the murky clouds and finds a way to shine through. It's a trans-genre, transgender and even transformative film, soaring this way and that. Somehow or other we go along for the fast ride and despite a guffaw here about this prosthetic (check out Hank's teeth as Dr. Henry Goose) or a gasp there over that very graphic bit of violence (watch for the tooth flying through the air) we arrive at our final destination feeling pretty good considering our 2 hour investment.  I think a lot of people will dislike this film, calling it pretentious and overreaching - there is something to be said for more linear story telling - but when I compare the film versus the book, no question I would rather see the film again instead of finishing the novel. And I actually think the film helps explain the book.
James D'arcy as Sixsmith, Whishaw as Frobisher
The actors all do a first rate job - pay attention to the delicious Ben Whishaw as Robert Frobisher (you'll see him next as Q in Skyfall) and James Darcy as his love, Sixsmith. Jim Broadbent is fantastic as Vyvyan Ayres, the composer who takes credit for writing the Cloud Atlas sextet (written in reality by Frobisher), the musical score that runs through the actual film. In actuality Tykwer wrote the music - a huge multi talent - along with Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klemack. And it sings. I say see it. You may not absorb the entirety in one sitting. I'm actually already thinking about seeing it again.



2 comments:

  1. I don't know if I would have seen this movie if not for your review. I love an original idea on screen -- think Being John Malkovich. The way you review the movie, makes me think that it is one you'll want to see again to catch other actors in other roles and other subtleties throughout.

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