Sunday, 19 January 2014

A Classic They All Forgot About.

Wrote this review on a site I write for once in a while. Then due to some web admin error my account was deleted. Reposting it here for posterity's sake and seething in disappointment that my work is out there somewhere. Hoping just like my review this movie too will be sought and found. 

You know you are seeing something different when the guy behind you says, ‘Yaar, Inception bhi itni complicated nahi thi.’  In Cloud Atlas you see, a man helping an African American slave hide in his ship cabin in the 1800s. The same actor then plays a man in the 22nd century, trying to rescue a Soomni (a futuristic humanoid cyborg workforce) from her eminent ‘recycling’.

Filled with so much, even the poster seems to be bursting at the seams. Do note the Warli-like painting on Tom’s face.

Seems complicated and unrelated? It is. I won’t defend or even try to detail the six parallel storylines you will see in Cloud Atlas. And, as if taking on six parallel story lines weren’t enough, these storylines span over a period of 5 centuries and have different actors playing different characters in them.
The make-up used here is so flawless that apart from a few instances, you won’t even be able to recognise these characters. For example, you see that  weird looking alien thingy below, it’s actually Hugh Grant.
You ask what the point of it all is. I guess on your first viewing of the Cloud Atlas, you won’t get it. In its entirety at least. On repeated viewings, you might get an outline, but it will still be blurred. But, I assure you on every subsequent viewing you will be delighted and awed. You will feel a generous amount of gratitude and understand through the ages, and despite our difference we always have been and always will be similar. Or simply put, you’ll experience an efficient demonstration of the term literati calls ‘The Human Condition’.
The movie nudges towards karma, reincarnation and other spiritual ho-hum. And you don’t even have to believe in it to enjoy it. It shows that as a race, we humans tend to repeat the same mistakes again and despite that, we all mean to be good in the end.
The word epic somehow doesn’t do justice to this movie. It’s ambition personified. In its spirit and its scale, it embodies the spectacle and scope sci-fi and cinema can cover. And you might say, what’s the big deal with spectacle? We’ve seen Avatar, giant robots squash each other to death and even had 7 superheroes come together for rescuing our world.
Right when you feel you’ve seen it all, Cloud Atlas takes a different approach to spectacle. Its stories are more in line with the works of sci-fi greats like Richard Matheson and Arthur C. Clarke. It uses sci-fi and spectacle not as a plot devise but to raise profound questions about humanity and our very being. What’s even more impressive is that its film makers had the courage to not answer those questions for you, or nudge you towards the answers. ‘Atlas’ is way too mature to indulge in that kind of cinematic spoon-feeding.
Sounds a bit daunting? Well, don’t forget it’s got the Wachowkis (The Matrix Trilogy) at the helm. You also enjoy a sumptuous feast of visuals and some stunning chase scenes too. It took 3 years to decide the editing of its sequences and its thoughtful influence is evident through the film. Its editing helps simplify things and make it easy to follow. The editor Alexander Berner avidly uses match cuts to connect one character’s actions to another character in some other century. So you see a character rushing to open a door in one storyline and a door being opened in another storyline. Thanks to Berner’s deftness, the near 3 hour length passes by like a breeze.
Let’s not forget the music. ‘The Cloud Atlas Sextet’ is one of the most haunting themes ever to accompany a film. Part mellifluous, part chilling, it closely walks the line between a dirge and love-song and makes you want to take out your smartphone and download it right away.
Now to wax poetic on the direction. It always surprises me when 2 directors direct a single film. I think it’s most uncommon to find two people sharing the same distinct vision. When the 2 directors involved are brothers (the Coens, the Hughes, Abbas-Mustan: D) the common background and upbringing must help. But here as the German genius Tom Tykwer joins the Wachowskis to form a 3-headed director tour de force, the result still is a seamless feature without any tonal shifts. If it took 3 directors to tame this beast of a film that’s based on David Mitchell’s Man Booker nominated tome, then it surely needed some gifted actors to ensure the magic on paper seamlessly translates on the screen.
Tom Hanks and Halle Berry do most of the heavy lifting here as star crossed lovers, separated in most centuries who finally come together in the final segment. You see, there are happy endings in the distant future too. And once you see Hanks as an angry Irish writer, you can only wonder why don’t you see him do this more often. We have all come to find relief in seeing our good ol’ Tom play good ol’ guys onscreen, but this is quite refreshing and Atlas serves as a great showcase for almost every actor involved. There’s much to be said about Ben Wishaw’s haunting performance as a libertine career-climbing composer, who realises his slyness is no match for the cruelty of this world.
I could go on about its overwhelming scale and its heartfelt stories. But, I will keep it short instead – get off your chair and see this movie NOW. For when it grabs the Oscars next year for Make-up and editing, you can act like a true-blue film buff and say I watched it before it came on blu-ray. Now that it’s mostly out of theatres, there’s always the blu-ray.
There’s been a ‘yellow-faced’ controversy attached to the film. You know the whole bit about using Western actors to play Asian roles and just changing the look of their eyes during makeup. Well, I think it’s unfair and hyper-sensitive. Had the directors cast separate Asian actors, it would only make the movie more difficult to follow and besides a movie that asserts the similarities all humans share, the controversy only muddles the message of the film.
Although, there’s one instance that disturbs me. I know this part of the story occurs in 1800s, but why in almost every film when an African American has to show some skills, the skill always involve his physical prowess. When will we get to see an African American ‘Will Hunting’ maths wiz?
Bollywood’s no better either. With its easy-to-stereotype approach it has given us plenty of horny Jatts, silly Sardars and nerdy Malyalis. *Sighs*

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