Monday, November 19, 2012

Cloudy Connections

     Cloud Atlas, like the forthcoming Life of Pi, was supposed to be one of those novels it is impossible to adapt for the screen.  The scope of the story was too large and intricate to translate.  There is a good argument to be made for this.  The tale is actually six different narratives, set in six different time periods.  Two are in our future, one in the present, and three in our past.  The stories are connected not only by physically shared elements (a journal, a musical composition, even one character) that survive from one era to the next, but by the idea that the same souls are featured in each, just in different reincarnations.  Not just an intricate plot, but one that is bizarre and spiritual.
     Fortunately, the film had no less than three highly creative minds guiding both the script and direction:  the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix Trilogy) and German director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, 3).  I'm sure most of you are familiar with the "sibs" previous efforts, and the inherent pedigree they carry for dealing with futuristic worlds not that different from our own.  If you are unfamiliar with Tykwer's work, Run Lola Run delves into slight fantasy (and is must viewing, a really excellent film) and 3 investigates the twists and turns of complicated relationships (you can click the link in Related Articles for my review).
     However well their backgrounds may have suited them to the project, our directors had some tough choices to make and they didn't go for the easiest options.  They chose to present the stories in a constantly interweaving manner.  The audience never knows from cut to cut where or when the next scene will take them.  It DOES make the plot a little harder to follow, but it thematically underlines the ideas of connectivity and continuity.  These themes are further stressed through the choice of having the same small group of actors playing roles in each (or most) of the vignettes, each player apparently representing the same soul throughout different incarnations.  Like I said, there were no easy ways out chosen in this movie's production.
     The actors rose admirably to their difficult tasks, keeping the flavor of each soul the same, yet each lifetime having its own distinct character as well.  Tom Hanks is the best he's been in years.  Halle Berry shows previously untapped range.  Jim Broadbent is comically charming.  I am unfamiliar with actress Doona Bae, but she is absolutely captivating as Sonmi-451.  Hugo Weaving is delightfully wicked, playing the darkest soul in the bunch.  Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, and James D'Arcy, Susan Sarandan, and Hugh Grant are all also tremendously impressive.  This film probably won't get a SAG ensemble nod, but it is hard to imagine they won't make my top five of the year.
     The production values are absolutely first rate.  The visual effects are seamless, the production design and camera work both breathtakingly gorgeous.  Music is incorporated brilliantly throughout.  The editing on this piece had to have been a nightmare, but it creates a rhythm utterly unique to the picture.  Best in show (craft wise) has to go to the make-up department who had to transform actors to different ages, ethnicities, and even genders.
     The central theme of Cloud Atlas is the interconnected nature of all life and existence (oh, just that...), but it touches on so many universal themes.  One is the idea that a person is really who they are on the inside, as we see the same souls change drastically in superficial, visible means over the course of different incarnations.   Hanks' character(s?) demonstrate a strong thread of growth and redemption.  Liberty, individuality, freedom, and basic human rights tie the earliest and furthest flung plot lines together.  I could go on, and I'm sure that there were more ideas woven into this tapestry than I was able to glean in a single viewing.
     Which is my one (reserved) complaint about the film.  In an age when so many novels are split into two (or even three) parts when brought to the screen, why not use that treatment here?  It WAS a little too much story for one film, even at two hours and forty five minutes.  I was on sensory overload and still felt like there was so much MORE beyond what I caught.  Maybe repeat viewings will make it more clear.  Maybe that yearning for the more I can't know is part of how its supposed to make me feel.  This film has been very divisive with critics, but I found it really amazing.  That being said, I still feel like I need to see it again, maybe twice to gauge it in a completely accurate manner.
     At present, I'm going to say:  4 1/2 of 5 stars.

Related articles:  Sept. Oscar Buzz and Predictions - The Techs: Part 1Part 2ScreenplaysSupporting PerformersDirectors, and Picture3 Future Adventures of Tin Tin (review of 3)

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