I’m compelled to do a review now, simply by the way in which a particular movie struck me in the last few days.
Cloud Atlas; an interesting name, an intriguing cast, and an absolutely rubbish marketing campaign. Had any of you actually heard about this film? It was barely brought to my attention until about two weeks before it was due for release…and I tend to know a fair bit about upcoming movies.
Now this is an independant film, which typically means that the budgets are low and the people involved are near-strangers to the audience, but this one is big! It has big stars, a big budget, and a big scope.
Much like Christopher Nolan’s Inception was the grand and ambitious film of 2010, Cloud Atlas is the grand and ambitious film of 2012…or is it 2013? See, it’s being released at different times and in different formats all across the world just as we’re shifting over to a new year. Therefore, depending on where you live, it may already be out on BluRay or “coming to a theatre near you”.
So I started off that earlier paragraph by saying that this movie was as ambitious as Inception, but in fact it’s similar in even more ways than that. It juggles so many elements that you can easily lose track of them, but attempts to bring them all together and – wait wait wait…
…before I really review it, I need to tell you what it’s about!
“An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.”
What did I tell you, huh? Big!
Cloud Atlas is, at heart, an anthology film. Remember anthology films? I did a post about horror anthology films a while back, so check that out if you haven’t already. Anthology films are essentially films…made up of smaller films. Usually they will consist of two, three, or at most four short films – so as to fit within the body of a two hour feature presentation. How many stories does this movie have? Six!
As if that doesn’t sound massive enough, it’s complicated by the fact that the stories are all inter-cut. This means that they shift back and fourth, jumbling up the scenes like an unsolved Rubik’s cube and then asking you to solve it in your head. Want to make it even more difficult? Ok! How about this: There are flashbacks within stories, and some characters even cross over into others. Then, to put the cherry on the icing on the cake, the straw on the camels back, the whatever on the whatever else…the filmmakers decided to have the same actors play different character in each story!
I know, right? The amount of intricate mental connections the audience is expected to make is absurd. Cloud Atlas is adapted and directed by the Wachowski’s, who gave us The Matrix and V for Vendetta, and Tom Tykwer, director of Run Lola Run and Perfume. Now, those movies range from great to decent, but these filmmakers also have many failures. Lest we forget The Matrix Sequels, Speed Racer, and The International. So – we have a bizarre and daring idea, a giant list of thematic goals and moral teachings, an extremely complicated plot, a whole troop of different actors, and three hit-and-miss directors. Let’s just get it over with, how horrible is this movie?
Ok, maybe it’s not amazing, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I had serious doubts going in, but walked out with a grin from ear to ear. It’s good, it’s actually good!
The inter-cutting really works, and helps to bring out the themes that span across every story. Through a clearly impressive amount of pre-planning, the extremely intricate connections between each plot is conveyed to us in a comprehensible manner while still maintaining the individual arcs within each story. Every one of these little films works on their own, but when spliced together they all work toward one central idea. There’s a great sense of entertainment being exercised here. Before you could ever get bored of one section, it immediately cuts to the next. Add to that a lot of experimental and interesting uses of camera movement and focus, and you have a true roller-coaster journey of emotions. Sorry for the pretentious fawning flattery, but there’s no other way to describe it.
The visual effects are all good, but there was one thing that didn’t always work; the makeup! As the different actors portray several characters, they inevitably end up using prosthetics and makeup to change their features, ethnicity, and even gender. Many of the disguises are fantastic, and there are bound to be some that trick you completely (stay for the credits…you will be amazed!), but they don’t always work. Sometimes people end up with laughably strange noses and eyes. Caucasian actors are made to look asian, and vice versa, which I felt frequently tipped back and forth between serious and silly. It’s a cool idea, but at times it makes Cloud Atlas look like a very expensive pantomime.
The final thing to say about it is this: Cloud Atlas will not work completely for everyone. The different plots are so varied that, depending on your taste, you will find some that you enjoy and some that you don’t. After you’ve seen it you’ll be telling your friends “I liked that story, but that other one was a bit weird”. There’s a costume drama, an espionage thriller, and a futuristic revolution all within the body of one movie. What’s partly a curse is also a blessing, as everyone will also find something they love. Don’t let this one pass you by, it’s an incredible experience that may just lift your spirits little during a bad day. I recommend it to everyone!
– Rant Over!