19 October 2012

Cloud Atlas (Tom Tykwer & The Wachowski Siblings, 2012, USA)

David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is one of the few contemporary novels I have loved. I read it about four years ago and I loved so much about it. I was thrilled when I heard it was being adapted for film, even though some of the things that made me love it aren't really things that can be translated to film. His masterful use of language and form, for example, isn't really very apparent in the film. My expectations for the film were tempered by a very overwrought looking trailer and the realization that it features a number of actors like Tom Hanks and Jim Broadbent who are notorious hams.

The film, like the novel, is composed of six different stories which take place in different points of time, from the late 1800s to the distant future. Unlike the novel, these stories are intercut. The actors all play multiple characters, which is nice from a thematic perspective, but in practice is distracting from a dramatic perspective since many of the characterizations verge on caricature. For the first half hour or so I was convinced that the film would be ruined by the likes of Tom Hanks and so forth, but in the end, I found the film relatively successful. Doona Bae was a big part of that as she gives a riveting performance as the Korean fast food waitress turned revolutionary icon of New Seoul. In fact, that storyline is by far the strongest. The acting is generally better in that storyline and the storytelling was clearer than some of the other stories. Halle Berry also turns in one of the better performances in the film and Hugo Weaving is intermittently effective in his various characterizations, particularly as a deranged nurse and as some sort of demon.

I had worried that the film would, as is usual, be more effective for viewers who hadn't read the book. In fact, I now think the reverse is probably true. The film often moves from story to story pretty quickly and leaves out a lot of the exposition, and the audience isn't really given a ton of information about the characters or plot events. It's really understandable, as you could conceivably have made a film of each of the six stories. I think the film makes a great companion to the book, however, because its editing really shines a spotlight on key themes from the book in a way that I found quite pleasurable. In fact, I find myself loving a lot about the editing of this film and aside from attention for Doona Bae, the Awards nomination I'd like to see most for this movie would be for editing. Of the many films I've seen in the past week, I feel like this is one of the four or so that I've found myself wanting to see again.

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