Cloud Atlas Review

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What if there is such a thing as past lives? What if the actions we perform and the relationships we make have repercussions for generations to come? In Cloud Atlas there are six separate storylines, happening in six different times. 1849, 1936, 1973, 2012, 2144 and some time after “The Fall”. It’s Cloud Atlas’s job to show us how, despite the difference in times, they are all connected.

But time isn’t the only difference between them, as each is in fact its own genre. One minute you’ll be watching a British comedy staring Jim Broadbent and the next you’re watching a pessimistic science fiction.

The 1849 plot features an American lawyer (Jim Sturgess) who makes friends with an escaped slave (Keith David) in his cabin on his journey back home. The lawyer also suffers from an illness and is being seen to by a doctor (Tom Hanks) who isn’t to be trusted.

In 1936 a young musician named Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) runs to Edinburgh to convince an old composer (Jim Broadbent) to get back to work. After a prickly start, the pair work together in creating something great, but Frobisher begins to work on a masterpiece of his own.

Frobisher’s letters to his lover Sixsmith (James D’Arcy) are read over the top of other events to make points and show similarities between the other characters. These letters are kept by Sixsmith well into his old age. And in 1973 they eventually end up in the hands of Luisa Rey (Halle Berry).

A lot of focus on the 1970s storyline was put into the trailers so you might already be familiar with some of it. She’s a journalist in the middle of a dangerous mystery. The letters themselves aren’t a clue (it’s something on the envelope) and yet she finds herself reading them, trying to figure out “Why we keep making the same mistakes over and over.”

The 2012 plotline centres around a publisher, Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) who has the misfortune of having a criminal for an author. After an incident at an awards celebration, Hoggins the crazed criminal (Tom Hanks) is thrown into jail and sales of his book naturally reach the thousands. Unfortunately Hoggins isn’t too pleased that his publisher is seeking the rewards of his book sales and Cavendish is forced to flee. With help from his brother, Cavendish finds himself trapped in a hellish old folks home.

The next story takes a great leap into the future, to 2144, where clones are made in tanks and forced to work in gaudy, plastic cafes. One of these clones is called Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae) who is persuaded to escape with the help of Chang (another Sturgess character).

The final story is set in a post apocalyptic world where there are three types of people. The tribesmen, the cannibals and the Prescients, people who are still clinging on to technology.

The tribesmen are visited by Meronym (Halle Berry), one of the Prescients. She enlists Zachry (Tom Hanks) to guide her to a communications station on the top of a mountain. Meronym wishes to send a message for help and tells Zachry it is because the land is slowly poisoning her and her people.

On their journey Zachry threatens to ruin everything as he suffers from visions of a devil (Hugo Weaving) who tries to convince Zachry to do terrible things. The devil character “Old Georgie” is probably the one thing in the film that doesn’t make much sense. Even though each story has its differences, the visions of Old Georgie just don’t seem to fit. It feels as if this is something that wasn’t properly translated from the book.

It says a lot for the editing that these different genres and tones don’t clash. The action from one story is mirrored by the action in a grand pattern. Then there is evidence of characters lives bleeding into the past and future.

Sonmi-451 is a fabricant (a clone) that goes through a terrible ordeal but her words are left behind to be read by tribesmen after the apocalypse. The masterpiece written by Frobisher is played and sung for years after his death.

But perhaps the moment that encompasses the whole idea of Cloud Atlas is a love affair that is paid off, not in the future, but in the past, proving that people remain connected throughout their many lives in one huge cycle.

Directed by The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, one of the biggest decisions they made in achieving this was to have actors play multiple roles. The main actors play someone in every story, sometimes without them being recognisable.

It’s a huge achievement in make-up and acting talent. For many of them we get to see something we haven’t seen before. Who knew that Hugh Grant could pull off evil cannibal? And Tom Hanks evolves from a heartless selfish man, to kindly scientist, to mob boss and onwards.

You get the impression that this is the sort of film that they were all proud to be a part of. At the end, it’s well worth staying around because the credits actually show you the different faces of each actor. In the screening I went to people literally gasped because they couldn’t believe who had been behind the make-up.

Sometimes the actors are sneaked into the background but mostly you are supposed to see who they are. You are meant to see the progression of Tom Hanks and Halle Berry’s relationship through the ages. You are meant to see Hugo Weaving’s various villains.

Cloud_Atlas (Tom Hanks)Cloud Atlas is not a film you can watch with your brain turned off. There are so many hints and nods between the storylines that it pays to pay attention. That’s not to say that the stories themselves are particularly complex. It is the connections between them that are important.

There are parts that are more memorable than others. The story about the lawyer and the slave isn’t all that special but it has an excellent pay-off. The British comedy is sweet and truly funny. And the struggles of Frobisher quickly become sad and terrible. But it’s the plot concerning Sonmi-451 that will probably stick in your head the longest because there is so much about it that is terrifying. This might also be because it was one of the portions directed by The Wachowskis and dystopian sci-fi is sort of their thing.

Unique, ambitious and unlike anything you will have ever seen before, Cloud Atlas is a film that has split opinions (quite severely in some cases), but needs to be seen. Even if you find that it’s not for you, it’s guaranteed that this is something everyone will want to talk about afterwards.

Cloud Atlas is released 22nd February in the UK. It is directed by Tom Tykwer and Andy and Lana Wachowski.

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