This is a film I have been wanting to see for a long time now, ever since I read the original text by David Mitchell (you can read my review here).
My expectations were not high, as I was already wary of the use of the same actor in multiple roles, however it pleasantly surprised me.
For those who have not read Mitchell’s extraordinary work, please try to. I am unsure how those who have not also managed to follow the film, as the Wachowski effort flits from each character and timeline without much warning. However I can tell that those who had their wheat related breakfast cereal would be able to catch up with each character and plot, hopefully making sense of what was a beautiful image of reincarnation created by Mitchell.
There are changes to some of the original plot, characters missing and a couple of twists and turns I am positive didn’t occur in the original text. However to be certain I need to re-read it.
What was most important to me was that one of the future sections was played out right. It near enough satisfied me which is impressive for a series of characters and a situation I really became attached to. This section is set in Neo-Seoul in 2144, where clones are created for manual labour and destroyed when they earn enough stars, and a fabricant (clone) becomes part of a revolution by discovering that she is not just a mindless server but a woman with thought, feelings and intelligence.
What I also loved about the book was that it acted as a mirror, beginning with the 19th century and telling half stories until the far flung future, where then it would tell the rest of the story going backwards until you get back to the first character and his situation. This whole idea was removed for the film, rightly so because it would not have worked terribly well nor held anyone’s interest for the time it would have taken. As it is the film is 165 minutes long and that comes with flitting between the stories in order to keep the audiences attention and to best show how each soul moves forward or backward through civilisation.
The best example of what I am so poorly describing is the soul of the characters played by Hugh Grant. He begins as an odious reverend in 19th century South Pacific, he is then seen as seventies tycoon who wants to create a huge disaster in order to create profit, then ultimately becomes the leader of a cannibal pact in the distant future, having completely lost his humanity.
Grant was a huge surprise. He can act. And I mean actually act, putting on accents and making his turn as a cannibal surprisingly scary. I remember an interview with Graham Norton where he claimed knowledge of his terrible acting and awful films that pay him handsomely – but it is such a waste that he makes those choices.
To me Grant and Hugo Weaving’s characters were the ones who made the most sense, they played the same soul the whole way through. What is key to this story is a birthmark, shaped like a comet, which ties the stories and souls together. This birthmark appears on Halle Berry, Tom Hanks and Ben Whishaw – who then each appear in the same scenes as different souls.
Maybe its me misunderstanding how reincarnation is supposed to be working, but it bothered me.
What bothered me more though was the amount of prosthesis which was used. It was really freaking obvious sometimes and took your whole attention away. I disliked that they made the actors look, well Korean I guess was the intention but Jim Sturgess did not fair well under the make up. Saying that I really enjoyed his and Doona Bae’s performance and actually managed to stop concentrating on his odd features. So the acting won out there.
I actually cannot fault the performances of anyone. Though the Wachowski’s and Tom Tykwer played with the story a little, putting men in drag (Hugo Weaving must have been so disappointed not to be going full Priscilla) to follow through the soul transition, they created a beautiful film and told it as best as anyone could. They also brought out tremendous performances from everyone, from already gushed about Hugh Grant to making Tom Hanks both evil and a coward. They also made Halle Berry white. I wasn’t so comfortable with that.
Though I really did enjoy the film and felt it was the best adaptation of Cloud Atlas possible without spending six hours on a mini series, I spent a lot of time playing spot the actor (honest there could be a drinking game out of it and I guarantee you’ll be surprised at the end).
For this, the prosthetics, and the slight playing with the story I can only give it a ‘very good’ rating. So I entirely recommend it, but first I recommend reading the book. Even with the untranslated French that occassionally pops up it is worth it, specially to understand the speech in the far future section of Zachry and the cannibals.
You’ll also be glad to know, those who read the book, that the Timothy Cavendish section is just as hilarious as it is in the book. Jim Broadbent is a star.