JDIFF 2013 Review – Cloud Atlas

Based on David Mitchell’s novel, Cloud Atlas is an exploration of how individual lives effect our world in the past, the present and the future.

Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski have taken on a bold and ambitious project with Cloud Atlas. The story encompasses the past, the present and the future, and many different races, genders and experiences.

The writers and directors of the film have made some strange and interesting choices throughout; including having Hugo Weaving play a woman, Susan Sarandon play a man, and each actor labour – at times – through layer of prosthetics and make up. The strange and wonderful thing about all of this is, it works, in an odd way. Yes, there are times when it is hard to figure out who is who, but this is a film about the story. And what a story…

The film is about the human experience; love, life, death, control, slavery and the connections that we make with one another along the way. The idea is that the soul is immortal, reincarnation happens, and the characters spend each of their ‘lives’ searching for the person they have loved before and will again. There is tons of scope for reading religious and spiritual themes in the film, but my guess is that each of these readings would be personal and subjective, so I am not going to espouse them here.

The cast is made up of Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw, Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, James D’Arcy, Doona Bae and Keith David. Each actor has the storyline where they step to the fore, and each makes up the background of the stories as well. The performances are fantastic, be it in action sequences, love scenes, jungle mountaineering, journalism or anything else that you would care to name. Standouts though, have to be Ben Whishaw as Robert, a young composer and Jim Broadbent as Timothy Cavendish, a man who longs for freedom. As well as this, Tom Hanks gets more than one moment in which he holds the audience, Doona Bae’s expressive face is put to great use, Hugh Grant is magnetic as an evil future dweller, Hugo Weaving obviously has great fun as a demon and Jim Sturgess’s performances are heartbreaking… All of them.

The cinematography of the film gives weight to the epic scale of the project. Each time period is beautifully filmed and gives the sense that this is an entire civilisation, not just a snapshot of it. Directing wise, the trio split the sequences between them, but managed to keep the tone and style smooth. There are comedic, upsetting, enraging, joyful and heart breaking stories in the mix, but they are so skilfully put together that they always feel as though they are part of a whole. The film is so well paced and edited that the three hour running time is not a problem, the only complaint could be that some of the stories work better than others.

Cloud Atlas is storytelling on an epic scale. It is ambitious, beautiful and slightly crazy, but all of this works in the film’s favour. The performances are strong, the cinematography is gorgeous, the stories are intricately woven and cleverly told. Some of the stories work better than others, but Cloud Atlas is a film that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Rating: 4.5/5

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