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Film review: Cloud Atlas

by Dan Jordan

Age certification: 15

Written by: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski

Directed by: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski Lana Wachowski

Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Boradbent Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Hugo Weaving

Genre: Drama, Science Fiction

Rating: ****

There are films that provoke thought. There are films that evoke emotion. Films we use to cheer us up, bring us down, make us feel a part of something, let us escape, teach us, test the boundaries of our senses and grant us a new lease on life. Cloud Atlas is all of these; wrapping the sensual, multi-faceted fabric of storytelling around the beating heart of life itself.

Through the two-and-a-half-hour run time, a myriad of stories unfold. In 1849, an American slaver (Jim Sturgess) is stricken gravely ill on his journey home to his family, with his only comfort found in a stowaway slave (Keith David). In 1936 Britain, a hedonistic young piano player (Ben Whishaw) is taken in by the foremost composer of the time (Jim Broadbent), but loses more than he ever sought to gain. In 1973 San Fransisco, a reporter (Halle Berry) investigates a mysterious investment by an oil company into a nuclear power plant. In present day London, an ill-fated publishers’ greatest success leaves him an unwitting resident of a retirement home. Jumping to 2144, the city of New Seoul is rocked when an artificially created waitress (Doona Bae) is freed from monotonous captivity by a rebel to the authoritarian regime (Jim Sturgess). After the fall of man-kind, a psychologically beleaguered peasant (Tom Hanks) must lead an intrepid, technologically versed woman (Halle Berry) to forbidden lands in pursuit of knowledge.

The distinct and profound power of Cloud Atlas issues from its audacious willingness to break structural boundaries. We hop between time periods in an energetically shapeless way, bouncing between each story of saviours, destroyers, truth, punishment and civil disobedience. It tests our perceptions and our focus, but never loses its own, evidenced by its slackening and tightening of the links between storylines through its mindful pacing and riveting distribution of climaxes. 

The quality of Cloud Atlas shines through all the more in its’ intricate and inventive avoidance of condescension. While the various worlds thunder on around us, the actors (all playing more than one part each in each storyline), connect us to proceedings. They then act as the film’s philosophical mouth piece. We are connected to all the people we see. They lose access to their worlds through some means or another, as the film separates us from the conventional and easy understanding we expect from Hollywood cinema. Thus, we are on equal ground to the characters and, by this means and by their speeches the value of choice between kindness and cruelty is weighted as heavily in their actions as in our own after we leave the theatre.

With that said, the ultimate act of kindness you can do is seeing this film with everyone you know. Its philosophical evocations and convention rejecting story is an invaluable feast for the mind, eyes and soul.

 ** Click here to check Odeon Leicester film showing times **

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