Writer: David Koepp (screenplay), Dan Brown (novel)
Stars: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Ben Foster
Release date: October 13th, 2016
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running time: 121 minutes
Best part: Tom Hanks.
Worst part: The confusing flashbacks.
Some franchises are truly baffling. The Twilight, Transformers and now Da Vinci Code series’ warp source material and fan interests for a cheap buck. Despite making serious coin, they all gain negative attention from critics and wider audiences. Yes, this is mean. However, you could feed millions of African children with each installment’s budget.
Of course, taste is subjective and makes for good discussion. Even for the majority of author Dan Brown, Director Ron Howard, and Star Tom Hanks’s biggest fans, however, trilogy-capper Infernocould be a franchise killer. This one, based on Brown’s fourth (latest? who cares.) franchise novel, does kick off promisingly. Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Hanks) wakes up in a hospital in Florence, Italy. Langdon – armed with a spotty memory and gash across his head – and Dr Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) quickly escape from an assassin. Meanwhile, transhumanist scientist/multi-billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) commits suicide before unveiling his master plan to obliterate half the world’s population.
Inferno is yet another 2016 sequel no one asked for. 2006’s Da Vinci Code and 2009 sequel Angels and Demons resembled baffling and bloated extended episodes of Criminal Minds. Here, Howard and Hanks were (allegedly) contractually obligated to return before world’s end. Inferno, indeed, is a waste of the cast, crew and audiences’ time. Like previous installments, Brown’s shaky understanding of history and religion shines. Aiming for Indiana Jones‘ rollicking thrills, it forgets one thing – simple equals effective. The plot, thanks to screenwriter David Koepp, sporadically jumps from A to B to C. Its non-linear timeline sees Langdon and the audience piecing everything together. The mystery-thriller elements deliver a myriad of contrivances and plot holes. It quickly becomes bogged down by World Health organisation agents (Omar Sy and Sidse Babett Knudsen) and spooky government facilitators (Irrfan Khan).
Howard is a hit-and-miss filmmaker with little to say. Beyond 2013 smash Rush, the past decade features these flicks, The Dilemma and In the Heart of the Sea. Inferno sees Langdon and co. in some of the world’s most beautiful locations. Florence, Venice and Istanbul get their due (and I’m sure everyone had a blast making it). Howard’s stylistic flourishes are eyeball-achingly obnoxious. Throwing in visions, flashbacks and narration/exposition willy-nilly, he delivers an equally rushed and sluggish product. As the trailers suggest, it also features a half-baked commentary on overpopulation. the actors put 100% into woeful material. Hanks shuffles to yet another pay-cheque. Jones, waiting for Rogue One‘s December release, is just fine. Sy and Khan elevate cliched roles. Sadly, Foster is wasted in flashbacks and YouTube clips (Easiest. Payday. Ever).
Inferno is yet another 2016 uninspired sequel/reboot/prequel release. The two-and-a-half-star rating is definitely not a recommendation. However, thanks to the overabundance of terrible blockbusters, this ain’t too bad. Hanks and Howard certainly deserve better.
Stars: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn
Release date: September 8th, 2016
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 96 minutes
Best Part: Hanks’s reserved performance.
Worst part: The occasional flashbacks.
Two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks is a national acting treasure and all-around nice guy. Since the late 1980s, he has mastered roles of immense passion and of varying genres. His down-to-earth attitude and raw charm engage audiences across multiple generations. In an age of brand recognition over movie-star prowess, the 60-year-old still delivers results. His work in Sully is no exception.
Sully centres on a story about an American hero, told by an American hero whilst starring another American hero. Hanks teams up with Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood for this 21st Century tale of hope. It details the events before, during and after the famous ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ incident. On January 15th, 2009, Airline pilot Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger began his day at work like any other. He and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) boarded US Airways Flight 1549 from LaGuardia Airport, outside New York City, with ease. However, three minutes into the flight, a flock of geese tore apart both engines. Unable to make it back to LaGuardia or to any other airport, Sully and Skiles made a forced water landing on the freezing Hudson River and saved the 155 souls onboard. Witnessed by New York and the world, the rescue efforts included the pilots, cabin crew, passengers, ferry/coastguard crews and police.
Docudramas generally involve war, conflict, and heartache to create drama and begin discussion. So, how could anyone make a Hollywood feature out of said good news story? Sully resembles a detailed and fascinating piece of investigative journalism. Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki, adapting Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow’s book about the event, capture the biggest and smallest details. The pair raise the tension and stakes with every new detail. Eastwood’s directorial filmography includes several hits and misses. The 86-year-old filmmaker and outspoken Republican puts everything aside for ol’ fashioned authenticity. His previous directorial efforts, from docudramas (Letters From Iwo Jima, J. Edgar) or character pieces (Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino), steadily portray the ins and outs, from go to woe. Here, he crafts a peculiar non-linear sequence with painstaking intensity.
The opening scene is a twisted dream sequence. Setting the audience on edge, the scene hurls us into the hero’s inner turmoil. It leaps between the incident, Sully’s loneliness, the air crash/insurance investigation, his wife back home (Lorraine (Laura Linney)) and flashbacks. Sully could have been a long and meandering mess preying on basement-level fears. However, the movie sways gently between intensifying dread and hope against the odds. Eastwood and co. present the incident itself from multiple points of view (a mother and daughter, golfers late for the fight etc.). The entire set piece makes for, arguably, the year’s best movie moments. This flawless recreation proves truth really is stranger than fiction. Hanks may get his latest Oscar nomination. Prone to playing nice guys and real-life heroes, the legend provides raw passion and cutting humour.
Sully showcases some of Hollywood’s best in fine form. Eastwood’s silky-smooth direction pays off tremendously. Meanwhile, Hanks and Eckhart bounce off one another with ease. Like its titular hero, the movie is a tough, powerful and interesting ode to human spirit.
Stars: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Colin Farrell
Release date: December 13th, 2013
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 125 minutes
Best part: Thompson and Hanks.
Worst part: The flashback-fuelled structure.
One of the English language’s most complex words can’t be found in a dictionary, award-winning autobiography, or dissertation. It doesn’t even come from an advertisement. It originates from one of history’s most beloved family movies. The word in question is ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’. Once said out loud, fond memories pour into the consciousness like tea into a cup. According to well-meaning yet underwhelming dramedy Saving Mr. Banks, it’s the word we use after we exhaust our intellectual powers. Mary Poppins follows this word’s creativeness and blatant absurdity to the letter (all 34 letters, to be exact). The movie’s kooky imagery and emotionally impactful scenes develop an engaging and revelatory musical.
Tom Hanks & Emma Thompson.
Admittedly, nothing I say can do the movie justice. Unfortunately,Saving Mr Banksfails to do it justice also. With children across the world growing up on this fantastical creation, Saving Mr. Banks needed to tap into its viewer’s souls to reach everyone’s inner children. Despite the enjoyable moments, its over-sentimentality, frustrating plot, and irritating characters undermine the intriguing premise. Buying into this Oscar season’s overwhelming glow, the movie rests entirely on nostalgia, conventional direction, overly sentimental screen-writing, and whimsy. Despite the notorious pre-production schedule and baffling personalities on offer, the fascinating real-life story is transformed into a sorely treacle docudrama. The plot itself, like the movie’s lead character, doesn’t stick to the courage of its convictions. The movie kicks off in Australia in 1906. Helen ‘Ginty’ Goff (Annie Rose Buckley), daughter of Travers Goff (Colin Farrell) and Margaret Goff (Ruth Wilson), is a precocious and engaging youngster looking for inspiration. Reaching to the skies for guidance, Helen seeks an inspiring adventure and sustainable future. Unfortunately, she’s forced to witness her dad’s transition from enthusiastic banker to drunken layabout. With this likeable family unit facing a painful demise, not even Aunt Ellie (Rachel Griffiths), despite fixing the family’s irritating flaws, can stop Helen from becoming a cynical adult. The movie then jumps to the 1960s, and Helen, changing her name to ‘P.L. Travers’, is a curmudgeonly middle-aged spinster. Travers (Emma Thompson), living a lonely existence in a minuscule house in London, is facing bankruptcy.
B. J. Novak & Jason Schwartzman.
Inspired by her aunt and father, she turns her life story into a fantasy novel series chronicling a magical nanny, broken-down family, and talking umbrella’s adventures. With writer’s block and diminishing sales eviscerating her bank account, Travers is forced to grant Hollywood the rights to her beloved novels. Promising to succinctly and accurately adapt Travers’ creations for the cinematic realm, multi-talented and intriguing media mogul Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) pulls her into the mega-studio system. Working with screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and composer/lyricist/siblings Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak respectively), Travers dismisses every idea and tool at her disposal. Turning smiles into frowns throughout Los Angeles, Travers’ irritating attitude may erode her and this adaptation’s immediate futures. Guided by chauffeur Ralph (Paul Giamatti), Travers must conquer her demons before signing off on this potentially successful project. Director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side), with his eyes on the prize, delivers another treacle and uninspired docudrama. Reflecting upon Hollywood’s greatest efforts, movies chronicling infamous film productions, from the opening frame, must be intensifying and entertaining. With the end result embedded in pop-culture and the consciousness, this hurdle, admittedly, is extremely difficult to overcome. Unfortunately, super-conglomerate Disney casts a sickeningly dark shadow over this docudrama. Disney immediately reveals its despicable intentions. As an ethically questionable project, Saving Mr. Banks credits Disney for single-handedly saving Hollywood. Applauding its own 20th-and-21st-century achievements, this unsatisfying effort becomes a deluded, self-affirming, and desperate PR stunt. Despite these obvious conundrums, the branding-fuelled company refuses to spoil its own image.
Sticking to Disney’s family-friendly roots, the movie can’t break through the cloying restrictions and conventions. The story and characters are doctored to fit the movie’s fantastical nature. Aiming for a bombastic narrative and fairytale-like aesthetic, the movie removes wit, darkness, heart, and depth from this enthralling premise. Unfortunately, this version of events lacks cinematically compelling aspects. As a cookie-cutter Disney creation, this Oscar contender becomes a predictable, sanitised, and tepid dramedy. The contrivances, obvious references, and broad slapstick hijinks fall into Disney’s more saccharine, stereotypical, and unambitious cinematic endeavours. Developing an immensely cheesy narrative, certain sub-plots and character arcs, despite hinting at compelling concepts, are picked up and dropped without warning. In addition, the pacing wavers when Hancock presses the flashback button. Jumping hastily between contrasting settings and time periods, the flashbacks add little to the narrative. Repetitive and uninteresting, these moments throw in several underwhelming plot-twists. Like Hitchcock, this nostalgic endeavour inexplicably switches from sentimentally dramatic to frantically comedic. Relying heavily on the original production’s songs and footage, this docudrama becomes forgettable faster than you can say “Dick Van Dyke”. Relying on critical, commercial, and Academy acclaim, the movie lacks the relevance, kinetic direction, intelligence, and charm of this year’s other Oscar contenders. I kept asking myself: “Who is this movie for?!”. The pre-production jargon will bewilder children while the unengaging story will bore adult viewers. As artificial as dancing penguins, the movie’s themes are hurriedly plastered across certain scenes. At one point, Travers criticises the original script by claiming it lacks heart, gravitas, and realism.
“Well come on! When does anybody get to go to Disneyland with Disneyland with Walt Disney himself?” (Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), Saving Mr. Banks).
Regrettably, the movie lacks these valuable elements. Tapping into modern criticism’s commentary on movie-making practices and the money-hungry studio system, the movie displays slight shades of life. However, capitalisation and globalisation are described as minor hiccups in this movie’s fluffy universe. Despite the relevant complaints, this movie’s glorious visual flourishes aid this otherwise conventional docudrama. Painting L.A. as a glowing cityscape, the production design develops rich, textured, and kinetic settings. In addition, the eye-popping costume designs elevate certain sequences. Suits, dresses, and mascot uniforms romanticise this valuable time period. Introducing Saving Mr. Banks with the original Disney/Buena Vista logo, the tiniest details make a significant difference throughout the 2+hour run-time. Despite the small scope, these bubbly aesthetic touches develop and imaginative and charming 1960s-obsessed universe. In addition, Disneyland is a sun-drenched, lively, and eclectic vista. Travers and Disney’s stroll through the tourist attraction is a charming moment. Credit belongs to the A-list cast for delivering monumental and well-meaning performances. Elevating themselves above manipulative material, Thompson and Hanks’ thespian qualities pit two gargantuan forces in a culture clash driven by wit, intellect, intent, and courage. Thompson’s purposeful mannerisms and inherent watchability make up for the character’s irreverence, cynical outlook, and irritating personality. Hurling insults at everyone in earshot, the character becomes tiresome by the half-hour mark. Hanks brings levity and charm to his controversial role. Stripping Uncle Walt of his anti-Semitism, cigarette addiction, and money-grubbing ways, Hanks’ charismatic presence develops a likeable and enigmatic go-getter. He delivers his best line – “Well when does anyone get to go to Disneyland with Walt Disney himself?” – with style and aplomb. Giamatti provides the movie’s most enlightening moments as Travers’ latest admirer. Novak, Schwartzman, and Whitford become engaging comedic foils. Farrell excels in his enthusiastic and well-meaning role. Meanwhile, newcomer Lily Bingham is appealing as Disney’s sickly-sweet receptionist.
Saving Mr. Banks, claiming that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, pours a pound of it down its viewers’ throats. With big-budget movies based on novels, classic feature films, TV shows, video games, and board games, the movie should’ve commented on this business-driven trend. Resting on nostalgia and marketing, this fictionalised account lacks cinematic appeal and relevance. Saved by Oscar-worthy performances, an attention to detail, and tiny heartwarming moments, this uninspired, dreary, and corny low-2½-star docudrama doesn’t match the Oscar-worthy competition.
Verdict: A well-acted yet uninteresting and meandering docudrama.
Writer: Billy Ray (screenplay), Richard Phillips, Stephan Talty (book)
Stars: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Catherine Keener, Max Martini
Release date: October 11th, 2013
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running time: 134 minutes
Best part: Hanks’ potent performance.
Worst part: The one dimensional villains.
They say that: “truth is stranger than fiction”. The aforementioned saying specifically applies to extraordinary events that re-shape the world. People judge reality by comparing what they see in real life to what they see on the big screen. Thankfully, docudramas break down societal barriers and provide explicit accounts of history’s most delicate and harrowing moments. Subjectively re-creating historical events, docudramas are, nowadays, as informative and engaging as news bulletins. Captain Phillips, thanks to its compelling material and talent, becomes one such powerful and revealing docudrama.
Thrilling and intense docudrama surges along whilst developing an attentive re-creation of one of the past decade’s most enthralling sagas. The story, based on Captain Richard Phillips’ book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea, documents Phillips’ terrifying ordeal and the contrast between men of vastly different cultures. Set in 2009, the plot kicks off with a beguiling insight into a small aspect of Phillips’ existence. Chatting to his wife Andrea (Catherine Keener) shortly before travelling overseas on business, Phillips discovers a monumental rift between his work and home lives. This latest adventure involves captaining the MV Maersk Alabama cargo ship from Oman, through the Gulf of Aden, to Mombasa. The perilous journey, from one port/safe haven to another, will test Phillips’ multifaceted role as the ship’s leader, negotiator, and protector. Meanwhile, on Somalia’s golden, sweltering coastline, fisherman and pirate Muse (Barkhad Abdi) is sent by his leaders to attain a sustainable bounty drifting out at sea. Taking control of his life-threatening mission, Muse takes several Somali pirates with him to board and hijack the Maersk Alabama. Using machine guns and tenacity, the pirates quickly head for the ship. Both crews’ captains push themselves, even before saying a single word to one another. Taking over the ship, Muse puts a gun to Phillips’ head and yells into the intercom to kickstart this chilling hostage situation. However, Phillips refuses to give up without a fight.
Despite being hyper-aware of the true story’s outcome, I was immediately hurled into this emotionally affecting and intense thrill-ride. The story, altered to maintain the movie’s intensity throughout its exhaustive 2+ hour run-time, has been debated by historians and witnesses since the movie’s release. Despite understanding their points of view, I support the movie’s presentation of Phillips’ guile and bravery during his nightmarish ordeal. Director Paul Greengrass (United 93, Bournes Supremacy and Ultimatum) is one the most influential directors currently working. His style, treading the line between realism’s limitations and cinema’s overwhelming potential, builds recognisable and fear-inducing worlds. Here, Greengrass ably compares Phillips’ home life to his pressuring career and its life-threatening side effects. The story, with its intensity and urgency escalating throughout, uses a limited amount of dialogue to convey Captain Phillips‘ ingenious and heart-aching messages. In the movie’s opening scenes, Phillips and Muse are depicted as determined and peculiar beings willing to die for what they are paid to protect. Greengrass’ attention to detail and staggering scope develop a 21st century hostage saga with consequences and thought-provoking morals. Greengrass, efficiently re-creating the intricacies of this life-changing ordeal, never lets the viewer forget about the story’s thematic and historic relevance. The movie’s gritty and profound depiction of this saga reminds us of the First and Third Worlds’ gargantuan differences. The contrast between Phillips and Muse’s existences defines Captain Phillips‘ emotional and psychological impact. However, unlike many docudramas, the movie is neither pro-America nor anti-globalisation. Greengrass sticks to his strengths to deliver a hostage-thriller about fathers, sons, leaders, and honour codes.
The unending crisis.
Captain Phillips, despite its gripping realism and frightening narrative, follows an understandable hostage-drama narrative. This moving and grounded action-drama is bolstered by Billy Ray(Shattered Glass)’s clever dialogue. Standing out within this hostage-thriller’s numerous tension-fuelled sequences, several quips and phrases define this movie’s purpose. With Phillips and Muse staring each other down, Ray’s dynamic screenplay hurriedly explains how one wrong word can lead to a bullet in the head. Of course, the audience, despite the movie’s emotional core, will turn out for the kinetic visuals and all-important hostage crisis. Greengrass’ masterful and affecting direction has been aimlessly copied by action-thriller directors throughout the past decade. After The Bourne Supremacy wowed audiences with visceral fight scenes and stomach-churning camera-work, Greengrass was labelled one of Hollywood’s most intriguing visionaries. Captain Phillips is the third Greengrass helmed Hollywood hit, following United 93 and Green Zone, to tackle a horrifying true story. Mixing realistic situations with electrifying visuals, Captain Phillips, from the first pirate siege sequence onward, becomes edge-of-your-seat entertainment. The attack sequences, illuminating Greengrass’ grainy and pulsating style, highlight the characters’ bold motivations. This survival tale of high seas terrorism would have suffered without Greengrass’ theatrics. Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd throws us directly into this nightmarish ordeal. The quick cuts, shaking cameras, close ups, and rush zooms may turn people away, but it’s their loss for avoiding this confronting docudrama. Switching from the expansive cargo ship to the claustrophobic lifeboat, the relentless hostage crisis amicably kicks off a disarming whirlwind adventure.
“It was supposed to be easy. I take ship…ransom…nobody get hurt.” (Muse (Barkhad Abdi), Captain Phillips).
The initial attack.
Though Captain Philips contains brutal violence and engaging action set-pieces, the cat-and-mouse battle of wits is worth the admission cost. Comparing Phillips’ familial issues to Muse’s on-going fight for respect and survival, Captain Phillips subtly transitions into a movie about fathers, leaders, privileges, and consequences. The story-lines, though delicate, contain hard-hitting similarities that define the movie’s all-important themes. The contrasting story-lines are, thankfully, elevated by the characters. Representing the ‘working man’s hero’, Phillips becomes an avatar for the average film-goer. These unique individuals, despite their commendable ideologies and work ethics, are presented with a limited amount of dialogue. Searching the ship and crew for weaknesses, Phillips becomes a tough-as-nails leader with the best intentions. Captain Phillips treats its titular character with respect, but never presents him as a multipurpose action hero. Despite the Die Hard-esque ‘wrong place, wrong time’ premise, Phillips is a restrained man who uses words instead of weapons. We all love seeing Hanks portraying larger-than-life personalities in such classics as Forrest Gump and Toy Story. However, he also excels at playing scarily moody and straight-faced heroes. Here, Hanks garners a scraggly grey beard and thick Boston-Irish accent to develop an intriguing portrait of this courageous individual. Taking on hard-hitting scenes with raw passion, Hanks proves he is one of Hollywood’s greatest treasures. Former limo driver Abdi delivers a nuanced and enlightening performance as the pirate leader. Fleetingly transitioning from purposeful villain to sensitive soul, Muse is a fascinating baddie. Juggling Phillips’ tricks and his crew members’ wavering emotions, he is a fascinating force whose moral compass guides him. Unfortunately, his crew members are defined by archetypal character traits. The quiet, mysterious, and loud-mouth pirate characters become annoying follies.
Not for the faint-hearted, Captain Phillips excels thanks to its attention to detail, solid performances, and tension-inducing thrills. It’s exceedingly commendable that big-name directors can become invested in heart-breaking and engaging historical events. Here, Greengrass evolves into a cinematic newscaster – throwing us into a true story that immediately enthrals.
Verdict: An intense, powerful, and gritty docu-drama.
Writers: Andy & Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer (screenplay), David Mitchell (novel)
Stars: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving
Release date: February 22nd, 2013
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Countries: Germany, USA
Running time: 172 minutes
Best part: The interweaving story-lines.
Worst part: The laughable make-up effects.
Have you ever stared up at the stars? Or studied the patterns embedded in your fingerprints? Or even truly embraced the people close to you? Don’t worry, these actions are completely normal. This behaviour is considered to be ‘philosophical’. Throughout history, man has strived to answer life’s big questions. Cloud Atlas is an ambitious and enthralling examination of the human condition. It’s an extraordinarily difficult film to analyse. This review may only cover a small fraction of what the film has presented.
Tom Hanks & Halle Berry.
This complex movie covers the past, present and future. The narrative is made up of six stories, each with their own significant plot-points. The first plot-thread is set in the South Pacific Ocean in 1849. An American Lawyer, Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), arrives in the Chatham Islands during the California Gold Rush. He befriends a poorly treated Slave, Autua (David Gyasi). At the same time, his friendship with Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks) takes a frightening turn. The next story, set in 1936, follows a young bisexual musician, Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw), journeying from Cambridge to Edinburgh. He gets a chance to work with one of the greatest composers of all time. But their partnership is far from ideal. The next story, set in 1973, depicts a journalist’s gruelling search for answers. The Journalist, Luisa Rey (Halle Berry), finds herself in more trouble than she ever could’ve imagined. The next story, set in 2012, finds a London-based book publisher, Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent), in hot water after a run-in with British gangsters. Searching for a place to hide, he finds himself locked up in a nursing home. In Neo- Seoul (2144), a dainty female clone, Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae – the film’s stand-out performer), may hold the key to Earth’s survival. A resistance agent, Commander Hae-Joo Chang (Sturgess again), must release her from a life of servitude. The last story is based in a post-apocalyptic world. Zachry (Hanks again) leads a peaceful tribe. He must guide Meronym (Berry again) across a wasteland known as ‘The Valley’. However, he is threatened by an evil spirit known as ‘Old Georgie’ (Hugo Weaving).
Jim Broadbent & Ben Whishaw.
The Wachowski siblings (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) have created the biggest independent production in film history. Their new film will struggle to make a profit. However, it’s nice to know that Hollywood directors are still willing to try new things. This is, as you can tell, a unique and expansive narrative. The writer/directors have inventively adapted David Mitchell’s book of the same name. The six story-lines are vastly different in both setting and tone. Bringing these contrasting stories together is a startling achievement. They are all bound together by certain ideas and character types. The 1849 story is seamlessly juxtaposed with the Neo-Seoul story. It takes a while for every story to intertwine. After a rather confusing prologue, I spent over two-thirds of the film trying to figure out how every story was connected. The film is bold and ambiguous (both very rare traits nowadays), but it could’ve been comprehensible at the same time. It becomes bogged down by pretentiousness in certain sections. The poetic dialogue and heavy handed messages are, to a certain extent, distractions. If you judge some of the story-lines on their own, you may notice that they are rather hollow. The nursing home story-line, for example, is shallow and easily could’ve been excised from the film.
It’s a film that is both famous and infamous. It has already been placed on ‘Best of 2012’ and ‘Worst of 2012’ lists (if you hate my review, you should read Time Magazine’s write-up!). However, Hollywood films of this magnitude and complexity have always been met with mixed reactions. Despite minor flaws, it’s a film with so many positives. The use of metaphor and symbolism is nothing short of mesmerising. Cloud Atlas discusses how one person can change the entire universe. Our actions can shape time, space, identity and/or culture. The post-apocalyptic story-thread is poignant and rich. This Apocalypto-style world enthrallingly bursts into life. This story-line pushes the film to its enthralling climax. It discusses the fact vs. belief debate. This debate is de-constructed; proving that both fact and belief can lead to hate, betrayal and/or suffering. The editing is Cloud Atlas’ saving grace. All six story-lines are welded together; turning this delicate sci-fi drama into a roller-coaster ride of gargantuan proportions. Certain story-threads interweave in a light-hearted manner. For example, characters in Neo-Seoul will watch video footage featuring events from another story. These transitions relieve the many jarring tonal shifts. The film distracted me by hurriedly switching from a slapstick comedy to an intense corporate espionage thriller.
“Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” (Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae), Cloud Atlas).
This 3 hour examination of humanity and fate gets bogged down by its own hubris. The writer/directors have, in the past, created some remarkable achievements. But they have also created some stinkers. They put too much of themselves into this film. At one point, one of the characters throws a critic off of a balcony. This was an unsubtle and slightly offensive way of expressing an opinion. The Wachowskis are clearly still bitter about their last three critical and commercial bombs (the Matrix sequels, Speed Racer). Pet projects of A-list directors have failed in the past (Sucker Punch, Southland Tales, The Fountain). This film does succeed, but there are still some truly laughable elements. Lana Wachowski (formerly Larry) has drastically changed throughout her many years in the spotlight. The Wachowskis believe that anyone can change. The actors are forced out of their comfort zones to fit the ‘identity crisis/genetic experimentation’ theme. Caucasian, Black and Asian actors switch between varying classes, races and genders. The make-up effects are, for the most part, extremely unconvincing. Certain actors have genetic qualities that continually shine through the prosthetics (Keith David in particular). Some characters look like they’ve stepped out of a bad Saturday Night Live sketch.
Ambitious, excessive and intensive; Cloud Atlas carries the weight of the world on its shoulders. It’s a tale unlike any other. The Wachowskis and Tykwer have created a beautiful movie about environmentalism, politics, capitalism, love, philosophy and sociology.