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Cloud Atlas

Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, and Jim Sturgess

At a time when once-unfilmable novels are being adapted for the big screen to widespread acclaim (most recently and notably Ang Lee's Life of Pi), the Wachowskis and German filmmaker Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) boldly opt to up the ante with this interweaving epic based on David Mitchell's 2004 Booker-shortlisted tome. For those unfamiliar with the source material, Cloud Atlas stretches across 500 years and six mind-boggling and interconnecting stories. Its earliest tale is set in the South Pacific in 1850, with an American lawyer (Jim Sturgess) being converted to the abolition of slavery (a particularly pertinent theme at the multiplexes right now). There's a related yarn set in 1930s Scotland, featuring a gay musician with an elderly benefactor of sorts; and a third strand set in the present day, in which an ageing bookish type (Jim Broadbent) publishes the autobiography of an Irish thug (Tom Hanks), only to regret it. Beyond that, a fourth takes us to San Francisco, circa 1973, in which a reporter (Halle Berry) uncovers a murky conspiracy led by an oily businessman (Hugh Grant). A ''new'' Seoul, circa 2144, later emerges, a sort of cross between the Wachowskis' Matrix trilogy and Blade Runner. There's also a post-apocalyptic future, in which cannibals put the fear of god into local tribesmen who mumble pidgin English to one another. Throughout this mind-bending stuff lies an A-list cast delivering what is, arguably, the most dynamic set of characters yet realised on screen. Hanks goes from Neanderthal caveman to scheming medicine man to Irish thug without batting an eyelid (and with the aid of considerable make-up). Berry similarly shifts from a tough-talking investigative journalist to an all-white goddess of the future, to a pale-skinned femme fatale with aplomb. Each of the six stories are presented on screen as overlapping forms of narrative, with each episode wisely wrapping with a cliffhanger before another is explored. The effect is exhilarating. Anyone expecting a po-faced view of the way our lives interconnect and affect those of others over time (which is essentially the message of the piece) will be pleasantly surprised, for Cloud Atlas has plenty of comedic flourishes and lashings of mischievous glee up its stylish sleeve. A case in point: Australia's Hugo Weaving. Perhaps reflecting Lana Wachowski's gender reassignment (Lana used to be Larry), and certainly with a fond nod to Weaving's drag-stealing turn in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the Matrix star dons a fatsuit to become the fearsome Nurse Noakes, ruling a dubious old people's home with an iron fist (and a sturdy pair of false breasts). He also turns up as a hissing Beelzebub and an assassin. Only Hugh Grant, who adds cannibal to his list of character turns here, threatens to upstage him. Cloud Atlas is, without doubt, a near-epic ensemble piece in which its key players are evidently allowed to run amok. Save for a typically timid Jim Sturgess - whose lack of screen presence feels like the weakest link in an otherwise full deck of cards - this absurdly ambitious undertaking largely succeeds in its mandate owing not to its sophisticated production and costume design and make-up (which are without question), but more to its narrative focus. Incredibly, the momentum never lags, despite clocking in at nearly three hours in length. The stories overlap quite beautifully. In fact, despite a rather mixed reception at last year's Toronto International Film Festival - and its bizarre and notable dismissal by studio chiefs, who have all but left it to fend for itself in the multiplex arena - this think piece linking past, present and future is surprisingly haunting and ultimately moving in its delivery. Performances are first class. A palpable sense of urgency is felt throughout. Lee's The Life of Pi has, evidently, stolen Cloud Atlas's thunder during this year's awards season, particularly in the technical stakes, but that shouldn't be allowed to demean the cast and crew's efforts here. I'd venture that Cloud Atlas will have a life of its own far beyond any Oscars snubs and the notable lack of studio push. This is bravura filmmaking that all but matches the likes of Leos Carax's Holy Motors (and far surpasses Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain) while clearly following its own warm-hearted agenda as it explores the meaning of life and the universe in a concise, tightly wound three-hour stretch. Courtesy: Ed Gibbs, The Age Entertainment Official Trailer

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Directed by: 
Lana Wachowski , Tom Tykwer
Running Time: 
Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Bae Doo Na, Jim Sturgess
Screenplay by: 
Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski

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