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Cloud Atlas

Film Five Stars
I've been thinking about Cloud Atlas for some days since I saw it at the Glasgow Film Festival and the more I've thought about it the more my appreciation of it has been increasing. At the same time I've been talking to other people who have seen it and realised that there's a fair divide of opinion for the film. The review, I've found, has been one of the most difficult I've had to write, it hasn't come easily, nor I'm sure is it going to prove a popular opinion.

Cloud Atlas comes from three writers and directors who have adapted the famous Cloud Atlas novel by David Mitchell. Tom Twyker is one of the writer/directors and the other two are the famous, and some would say infamous, Wachowski's, Andy and Lana. Already some people will be turning off for while the Matrix was ground breaking the sequels weren't as strong and divided opinions about the series, opinions that have remained with the Wachowski's and are clouding people's opinions of this film.

Speaking to people who haven't yet seen Cloud Atlas about the film I've seen a clear division. As soon as they know that the Wachowski's are behind the film an instant opinion is made and the Matrix sequels are mentioned, what generally follows is surprise as I talk about my feelings of the new film. Hearing who the cast is, who the third writer and director is and what they've previously written and directed rejuvenates their interest and previous concerns fade.

So if you're one of those people who are making instant judgements on the film based on the fact that the Wachowski's are involved or perhaps the length of the film or even the tone of the novel, I would say drop your preconceptions and give this film a chance. Above all don't take any of that baggage into the cinema.

Plot.pngCloud Atlas follows six different stories across different times and perhaps even different universes, stories that interconnect and touch on others lives from the past to the present and onto the future.

TheFilm.pngCloudAtlas.jpgThere's not a lot that I can say about the plot over and above the official blurb without revealing too much or for fear of over simplifying the story and doing it an injustice. It's better to experience it all as it is revealed, never mind how hard it is to write a plot blurb or a review from it.

Cloud Atlas is an epic of a film that tackles an almost impossible task, and that's putting to the side the scope of the novel which when talking to people who have read it they've said how difficult they see the adaptation being, in many cases nigh on impossible.

I haven't read the book but having watched the film I can understand why they believe that. Combining six very different and complete stories into one film seems hard enough but the film cuts between scenes which span stories, places and times, leaping from one to the next as a normal film would cut between different locations. Suddenly it sounds even more complex and harder for the audience to fathom but the beauty of Cloud Atlas is that it manages it with ease and it really isn't hard to follow, in fact the opposite is true.

The film flows well from story to story and you can feel moments when the different threads are moving closer together in terms of theme and it was at these moments where I felt my emotions building. It's strange to describe this after the film but there was a palatable sense of something building to the brink of a result or a revelation but these threads never truly connect, they grow near and you can feel them and recognise the moments between them but the film never makes all the connections for you or spells it all out. At times it seems as though the threads are getting close to showing how their ideas reflect each other but then they part again and move off in different directions as the characters make different choices.

There are many connections between the different stories but they weren't always explored. More often than not they were presented just as they are in each of the stories and it was left to the audience to understand it all. I really did appreciate the way this was done, recognising the intelligence in the audience and leaving it to them to interpret but at the same time not leaving them too stranded without any assistance. Saying that though I didn't feel that the connections always made sense and in some cases I felt that we could have seen a little more, been guided just a few more steps to come to our own understandings.

At times it did take a little bit of thought or some patience to let the story unfold and deliver what it wanted to tell you, but it did and while I may not have been sitting at the end of the film with a complete understanding, I knew what the themes were and as the credits rolled I felt a surprisingly powerful emotion.

It sounds crazy but by the credits I had the feeling that I had just watched something epic, a film to be analysed and dissected and re-watched like many epic films before it. I am honestly not exaggerating when I say that during the credits I fought the feeling to cry, and I don't mean in a terrible way but in a happy, emotionally wrung out kind of way.

The stories were themselves brilliantly written and beautifully filmed. Cloud Atlas in its entirety looked gorgeous and the different stylistic choices were fantastic to watch providing for a rich backdrop and a powerful contrast between stories. I'm so glad that there was no decision to make this into 3D film or any other such gimmick for it looked fantastic the way it was, from the smallest of scenes in seventies San Francisco (at times actually Glasgow) through to the sprawling mountain views or the amazing cityscapes in the future.

Going back to the writing I do feel I have to point out that there are scenes where the audience will recognise some thematic elements and similarities with the Matrix films and that's not a sign to leap back and shun in horror - even if I believe that the Matrix films are so often the victim of the infamous bandwagon leaping - for these scenes feel much more toned down and in place with this film. Yes, there are some moralistic and often more spiritualistic moments and there are some speeches and styles that you'll recognise but here they feel right, they feel they belong. You could view them more as nods of appreciation and recognition to that trilogy, but there's no sense of trying to make this the same story or even make up for what was before. Please, push those feelings to the side.

I don't often bring this to the fore in a review but the editing of the film is something that needs to be mentioned. With six stories all interweaving together, connecting and drifting apart, the editing has to be perfect otherwise it will so easily feel disjointed and lose the audience. I noticed the editing in Cloud Atlas early on but not for any negative reason. Bringing together these stories in such a way as to illicit the feelings they did in me, to flow well together as a whole and find the right moments to bring them together must have been an incredibly difficult task and one that the editors have managed to achieve.

Not only has bringing together the multiple stories worked so well for the film but at the same time the cutting back and forth has not affected the individual stories themselves. It's not long after the beginning of the film that I realised just how much we were going to be moving back and forth between the individual stories and that immediately concerned me, how were we going to keep track of everything that was going on? Initially in the introduction scenes of each I thought this was going to be incredibly hard and the film was going to demand a high level of concentration, however after the first few scenes there was no perceptible effort in having to follow these different threads no matter how difficult it sounds.

Each of the stories offered its own tale and carried tension, excitement, strong emotional moments and even some hearty laughs, in fact there is a surprising amount of comedy especially with the tale of the publisher - the Scottish rugby pub scene was not only inspired but utterly hilarious and raised plenty of laughs in the audience.

I felt engaged and entertained by each one of the stories and there wasn't one I wasn't keen to see more of. Looking back I do find this rather surprising as the stories are different from each other, a few wildly different.

The connections and themes through the stories are about many things but the strongest feeling I came away with was that of the power of an idea especially when someone has the belief to follow a different path. At one point the character of Robert Frobisher, the young composer, says:

"...boundaries between noise and sound are conventions. All boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended. One may transcend any convention, if only one can first conceive of doing so."

That's perhaps the strongest quote and feeling I took from this film, the idea that stepping out of the conventions that we believe to be boundaries is what can save us, set us free, or just lead to something wonderful. The desire to tread a different path is what makes these characters so great and you can see that reflected in the stories and in many of the words of the characters when they realise this through their own stories.

Something I haven't managed to talk about as yet are the performances. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Ben Wishaw, Jim Sturgess and Keith David, just a few of the performances that deserve a mention although I have to say that for me Hanks, Broadbent and Berry were the leading lights in this film with Grant delivering a multitude of surprises.

Jim Broadbent delivers two great characters that range from comedy to ruthlessness and he seems to have such fun playing them, a feeling that comes through to the audience. Halle Berry gave a great performance and reminds us why she is such a great actress, just one with some bad film choices behind her. Tom Hanks was superb and delivered performances with ease, his emotional scenes are at times fantastic and really move you, really make you believe in him.

That's something I can say for all of them, they delivered such natural and believable characters that no matter how removed from my reality their stories were, I always believed in them.

It must be hard for the actors and actresses to play multiple roles in such a film, to deliver so many different characters, and through this Hugh Grant shows just how chameleon he can be. He delivers a surprising range of characters but I did love him most as the seventies, sexist, CEO.

To be honest I could sit here and mention more of the names above and comment on how good they were but you just have to know that the performances are all very good. I think Hanks, Berry and Broadbent stood out the most for me, with a nod to Grant.

Overall.pngI've likened Cloud Atlas to watching an involved opera when you're not a regular opera viewer. By the end of the film you feel like you've seen something amazing without completely understanding why. It will have touched you and moved you, connected with you rather than just flowed over you, and you won't truly understand how, why or where it did it.

Watching Cloud Atlas I really did feel moved and reinvigorated by a film in a way I haven't been for a while, and considering how many films I see and how jaded you can become as a reviewer that's a massive positive.

I don't truly understand why I felt so moved by it or why I felt the need to award it so many stars, I just know by the way I felt after watching it and the way it continues to draw me back to it days after seeing it. The film is an amazing technical achievement for the writers, directors, editors, and the rest of the cast and crew, but there's more to it than that, there's the power of what it is offering the audience and the way it engages them rather than leaving them in another passive, half hearted entertainment experience.

For me the power of the film is in the way the stories reflect on each other, build up and converge, offering a larger vision through them as a whole. There were times when the stories didn't always make complete sense or truly connect and occasionally I could technically find issue with the stories, yet none of this mattered for when they closed together, or the characters came close to their epiphanies, you could feel the power of the film and the emotions really came through.

Not only does it bring together these different stories so well, editing them with precision to provide one complete film, but it delivers all that with some stunningly beautiful scenes and fantastic effects, and through it all are a group of excellent actors who deliver multiple strong performances across different roles with Hanks, Berry and Broadbent standing fast at the head of the film.

This is definitely a film I will need to see a good few more times to understand and truly appreciate and I simply cannot wait for it to be released on Blu-ray, if it had been available at the cinema door I would have bought a copy immediately.

Cloud Atlas is a stunning film that will undoubtedly divide critics, reviewers, and indeed audiences. However it captured me more than cinema has done in some time and I love it for that.

More from the Glasgow Film Festival 2013 on Filmstalker
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I too loved Cloud Atlas; it's by far one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. I completely agree with your review: it was a feast for the senses, a unique cinematic experience, though I rated it four stars.
Great review!


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