- 04 March 2013
- By John Howell
Adapted from David Mitchell's novel of the same name, Cloud Atlas is a powerful film that weaves together six disparate narrative strands with an outstanding ensemble cast that journey across 500 years of human history - from the eighteenth century to our distant future. The film's often repeated mantra sums up the central theme better than I ever could:
"Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future."
Having read the book, I was doubtful (or should I say extremely doubtful) that anyone could manage to capture the essence of the novel without creating a visual, narrative mess. Luckily, my fears were completely unfounded.
The directors of the new film — Tom Twyker, Lana Wachowski and Andy Wachowski - have taken the central theme of the interconnectedness of peoples' lives and expanded upon it by reusing the same actors in different time periods.
The cast is vast and impressive: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, Jim Sturgess and Ben Whishaw are the core. Each plays multiple characters, with Tom Hanks and Halle Berry performing remarkably in leading roles. My favourite character part was Hugh Grant as a cannibal in one of the future stories. If ever an actor was playing against type, this has to be it.
The first storyline follows a lawyer named Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) in the early 1800s, whose family is involved with the slave trade, while the second timeline features a talented young composer Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) in the 1930s, who aides an aging composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent) while trying to survive and create his own music.
Further into the future, the third timeline features Luisa Rey (Halle Berry), a journalist investigating corruption at a nuclear power plant in the 1970s. Close to our present, the next timeline in 2012 tells the story of Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent), owner of a small publishing company, who publishes a book by a thug and ends up locked in a nursing home (this was easily the funniest of the stories but - like the novel - seemed at odds with the the tone of the other parts).
The fifth and sixth storylines are futuristic settings, the first features Sonmi-451 (Donna Bae) a fabricant (clone) who along with many other clones has been bred to work in a fast food restaurant in Neo Seoul called Papa Song. Her uncharacteristic intelligence and independence may spark a revolution. A tribesman Zachry (Tom Hanks) is the central player in the final timeline, living 100 years after Neo Seoul has been swallowed by the sea and at a time when Sonmi-451 is considered to be a religious figure.
Compared to the novel, the film flicks backwards and forwards between each timeline at breakneck speed. At first this approach was disconcerting, but as the details of each timeline become entrenched, there was never a dull moment and lots to appreciate. The dialogue at times was pure poetry.
At almost three hours long, the running time is significant, but given the scope of the novel and the ambition of the filmmakers, it couldn't have worked any other way. The special effects in the future scenes were good too. Love, revolution, karma, hope, happiness, betrayal, and the future - I can't praise Cloud Atlas enough.
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