Friday, 22 February 2013

Cloud Atlas (15)

Time is a precious thing.

As we toddle through our lives, as age creeps upon us, we become more aware that we only have a finite amount of days, months and years with which to fulfil our destiny, to achieve all we hope to achieve.

Which is kind of the message of Cloud Atlas - that we all have roles to play, tasks to accomplish, destiny to reach for, as we go through life. Whichever one it is we happen to currently be living.

Which is why it's all the more galling that this film is, near as dammit, three bloody hours long.

Don't get me wrong, I've had worse three-hour periods of my life in the cinema (if I ever get to meet Mr Baggins, we're having words), but when the whole message seems to be about living your life and playing your part in the universe... well... it's somewhat incongruous - not to say ironic - that one has to waste so much time getting the message.

If that was the message.

The message could equally have been 'fuck it, doesn't matter'.

But I'll get to that later.

For those of you who haven't read the best-selling David Mitchell book (and I am one - but, as I'm sure will become a recurring theme, I'm a busy man) what we have with Cloud Atlas is not one but six (seven for the pedants among you) yarns about different folks at different periods in time. Only they're not all different.

Each time period is linked to the next, and the next, by people and events. And the telling of each piece is done well. With a star-studded cast that would shame Movie43 (Tom Hanks, Jim Broadbent, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Ben Wishaw, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon - all playing many parts), we move between an 1850s ocean-going vessel, modern-day London, 1930s Scotland, 1970s San Francisco, 2140s Neo Seoul and post-apocalyptic Hawaii (both 2321 and 2346) in as haphazard a method as is possible.

It's confusing as all hell, and yet it makes total sense. All at the same time.

And the performances are great. Doona Bae shines as Sonmi-451 in a futuristic Korea that brings to mind both Blade Runner and Attack Of The Clones (in as much as it shows what George could have achieved. But then, the whole "new trilogy" could be re-named the If Only years. But I digress. A rant for another day perhaps, or even another life). The scenes look the part, they are totally believable as a world away from our own.

Elsewhere, Jim Broadbent flips between an ailing composer, a sneery sea captain and a dodgy literary agent with consummate ease. Hugh Grant both acts (his vicar and vindictive millionaire are great) and reverts to type (his 70s fuel magnate comes from any number of standard Grant performances), Tom Hanks shows both his vast range (characters) and limits (accents) and Halle Berry is surprisingly measured both as a journalist and a futuristic seeker of truths.

But, for me, it's Hugo Weaving who steals the show. From voodoo-esque god of mischief to an evil nurse via a cold hit man, he simply oozes the menace and foreboding that is required of him. Even when he's at his nicest (in the early years towards the end of the film...), there's an underlying tone that chimes with what is to come and has already been.

If you get me.

You see, one of the problems I have with Cloud Atlas is the message it carries within. If indeed there is a message. I suspect everyone seeing it, or who has already read the book, has their own idea of what it's about. I'm just not sure the film is about as much as it thinks it is.

It reeks of worthiness and lofty ambitions, but at the same time seems to have no more depth than the office cat's water bowl. It's trying to explain, and show in many a convoluted twist and turn, that everything is connected, that everyone has their role to play, and how Shakespeare was on the money when he posited that a man in his time may play many parts (even if 'his time' may spread over thousands of years).

Or it's trying to show you that the universe has a plan, and much as you try the universe will win in the end. That we're effectively just atoms bouncing around, impacting on those we hit, but with no ultimate control over our destiny.

Or it's trying to show you that with redemption comes love, while those who pursue entirely selfish aims are doomed to die alone in an Hawaiian hut, their face painted up like an extra from Doomsday.

At some point as well, I'm expecting certain sections of the American right to denounce it as promoting communist dogma. Ultimately, Cloud Atlas can give you a lot of things, and you can take out of it what you want.

Yes, there are the big, neon-flashing messages of love, hope and redemption, but if you want to just sit back and enjoy the bonkersness of it all, you'll get something out of it too.

The comedy story (Broadbent breaking out of a care home helped by Last Of The Summer Wine's Howard) is a good, light-hearted romp. The 70s thriller is action-packed and tense, the sci-fi story is glorious (if you think you're upset about what's in your food now...) and the post-apocalypse period is, well, it has goats.

I'm not kidding.

There is a scene where a brash youngster happily steals the show. And then they disappear. Poof. Gone. Vanished. Without so much as a goodbye bleat. It's quite the mystery. If only because the man charged with looking after them (Hanks) seems to not give it a second thought.

And there lies another problem I have with Cloud Atlas.

I shouldn't have been giving the goats a second thought - but I was. When a young Broadbent is covering his modesty with a cat, I laughed - and then, minutes later, started wondering when the aforementioned office moggy needed his jabs.

For all the weight and heft the film thinks it's carrying, it fails to hold your attention for the whole experience. Caught up in it all, you may not notice two of Hanks' characters have terrible accents (I won't spoil the surprise for you), but you aren't and you do.

Despite these flaws, however, I did enjoy Cloud Atlas.

Yes, it sometimes looks like a show reel for the actors, set designers, make-up artists and costume folks.

Yes, it tries to make a full philosophy out of the twisted logic of Dirk Gently. Yes it's far too long. BUT...

Given what Jackson's doing with the Hobbit, we should be grateful they stuck to one film (they could have got an entire franchise).

This film has been made with a lot of love and care - on both sides of the camera. It understands the individual genres it's playing with. There are some good performances. And above all, somehow, it actually manages to be fun.

It just needs to take better care of its goats.

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