Cloud Atlas (tbc)

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Review byMatthew Turner24/02/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 172 mins

Madly ambitious and powerfully emotional, this is an impressively directed, superbly written and brilliantly edited fantasy epic with fantastic (multiple) performances across the board.

What's it all about?
Co-directed by Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run) and Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix Trilogy), Cloud Atlas is based on the epic novel by David Mitchell, in which a series of interconnected stories echo through the generations.

Chronologically, the stories are as follows: in 1849, lawyer Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) falls ill after he helps stowaway ex-slave Autua (David Gyasi) aboard a ship returning to America from the South Pacific; in 1936 Edinburgh disinherited musician Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) writes letters to his lover Rufus Sixsmith (James D'Arcy) when he takes a job assisting famous composer Vyvyan Ayres (Jim Broadbent); in 1973 San Francisco, journalist Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) uncovers a conspiracy at the Swanneke Island nuclear power plant, assisted by both scientist Isaac Sachs (Tom Hanks) and an aging Sixsmith (D'Arcy); in 2012 England, publisher Timothy Cavendish (Broadbent) is imprisoned in an old people's home by his own brother (Hugh Grant); in 2144 Neo Seoul, replicant Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae) is being interviewed by an Archivist (D'Arcy) before her execution for starting an uprising alongside revolutionary Hae-Joo Chang (Sturgess); and on Big Island, ‘106 winters after the Fall’, post-apocalyptic tribesman Zachary (Hanks) agrees to guide future race Prescient Meronym (Berry) to a secret mountaintop, fighting off a vicious cannibal (um...Hugh Grant) along the way.

The Good
The (multiple) performances are excellent, even if the make-up jobs are often borderline hilarious (Hugh Grant: cannibal) or quite freaky-looking (Doona Bae as Ewing's Caucasian wife). Stand-outs include Whishaw as Frobisher, Berry as Luisa and Broadbent, who's both laugh-out-loud funny as Cavendish and monstrous as Ayres, while there are also a number of delightful supporting turns, such as Hanks as an Irish gangster-turned-author or a heavily made-up Grant as Broadbent's scheming brother.

The Wachowskis and Tykwer cleverly replace the pyramid-like structure of the novel with a frankly incredible editing job that allows each of the six stories to unfold simultaneously, sometimes giving you just a few seconds of a story at a time but, crucially, ensuring that the film zips along at a cracking pace and never drags, despite its arse-numbing 172 minute running time.

The Bad
It's fair to say some of the stories are more effective than others (Sonmi-451's story is as thrilling as any recent Sci-Fi blockbuster, Zachary's story is comfortably the weakest), but at its best, the film is dizzying, inventive and madly ambitious. Similarly, though the connections between the stories aren't quite as strong as they could have been, there are still powerfully emotional themes running through all six strands, such as the power of love and the importance of kicking against injustice and repressive authority figures.

Worth seeing?
Epic in both scope and ambition, Cloud Atlas is a hugely enjoyable, fast-paced fantasy drama that's both genuinely thrilling and powerfully emotional. Recommended.

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Content updated: 25/02/2020 12:17

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