Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cloud Atlas Review

To say that Cloud Atlas is a triumph of cinema would be an understatement.  I have never seen a film quite like it and I probably never will again.  Based upon the book of the same name, Atlas weaves together six separate narratives into one relatively cohesive film, dealing with issues such as freedom, love, and happiness.  I experienced such a wide array of emotions that few films are able to evoke within their run-times.  You can go from joy to sorrow to anger in the matter of just a few scenes; the type of tonal balance that is found within Atlas is incredibly difficult to pull off - and the directing trio of Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer pull it off with aplomb.

It is incredibly difficult to find a good starting point to discuss my thoughts and feelings regarding Cloud Atlas.  There is just utterly so much going on over the course of the film that I would say its damn near impossible to remember everything.  And that's okay.  The point of the film isn't to remember each character's name or every little detail - it's the themes at play that are the center of the film.  Atlas has many things to say, but perhaps the strongest idea at play is that of upsetting the status quo.  The six timelines all deal with this idea in one shape or another; in 1849 its about helping a stowaway slave earn his freedom; in 1936 about a homosexual composer dealing with societal views while finishing his masterwork; and in 2144 about escaping a life of pseudo-slavery and exposing the truth to the world.  It is beyond fascinating to see each timeline unfold in their own unique way, all while managing to share similar arcs to one another; the directing trio masterfully blend each timeline so that we're bouncing from one to another, one scene at a time, within a matter of minutes.  Climax moments are melded together to keep the energy and pacing alive; rather than just experience one intense scene or moment, we bounce between multiple events that may be occurring hundreds, if not thousands of years apart, that share similar themes or events.  Dialogue spoken by a character in one story will beautifully complement the on-goings in another.

I just cannot applaud the directors enough for how well Atlas turned out.  With all the moving parts involved it could've easily devolved into a rancid mess of a film.  Instead, the film is surprisingly comprehensible and gets just about everything right.  Yes, the beginning of the film is a bit jarring, considering the time-hopping that is in play, but what is brilliant is that there comes a moment, one that I can't quite pinpoint, at which everything just starts making sense.  I was able to distinguish the varying timelines and their respective characters from one another.  And that's even with the entirety of the main cast putting in up to six different performances each.  Yes, the acting chops on display here are just out of this world.  I never thought I'd see Hugo Weaving play an authoritative woman, but I can wholeheartedly say that  I did and it was amazing.  The directing trio were not afraid to ask their cast to change their gender or ethnicity for characters this film; in one timeline Halle Berry plays a white Jewish woman, and in another a Korean man; Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, and Jame D'Arcy all play Korean men in another; while other actors (Jim Broadbent, Tom Hanks, and Hugh Grant) are utterly unrecognizable in the fantastic makeup and accents in which they are hidden.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg.  Cloud Atlas is so incredibly layered with depth that my mind can barely comprehend it all and produce coherent thoughts about it.  Everything just works on every level.  Without even delving into the deeper meanings, the film at its basest level is a visual powerhouse; to say that Atlas is gorgeous would be understatement.  In every timeline the world just feels tangible and incredibly real, whether we're dealing with 1936 London or a post-apocalyptic Earth hundreds of years in the future.  It's no surprise that Neo-Seoul of 2144 is the most visually stunning, considering the impressive future-tech on display (seriously, can we please have holographic displays for watching TV - that you can swipe away - now rather than waiting 100 years??), but each timeline has its own distinct visual tone that helps you distinguish one from the other.

As is quite obvious, I absolutely loved Cloud Atlas; it utterly and completely blew me away from beginning to end.  There are a plethora of verbs to describe me during the film: enthralled, engaged, mesmerized, angered, overjoyed, saddened.  Only very special films can make one feel so much in such a short amount of time.  There are only two minor gripes that I had with the film: the 1849 storyline was a bit one-note for me, and some of the elderly makeup in other eras was iffy at times.  Other than that I really have nothing to complain about.

I understand that this film is not for everyone; I can foresee it being very confusing and difficult to follow for some.  Fortunately that wasn't a problem in the slightest for me.  Atlas is one of the very best films of the year, and will most certainly wind up very near the top of my list (if not in the first spot).  I simply cannot recommend it highly enough.

Cloud Atlas is a true cinematic masterpiece that simply must be seen.

The Bearded Bullet.

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