SOUTH­ERN GOTHIC

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - David Stratton

(MA15+) ★★★ ✩ Na­tional re­lease from Thurs­day

(MA15+) ★★ ✩✩ Lim­ited re­lease from Thurs­day

MANY peo­ple be­lieved Bri­tish au­thor David Mitchell’s award­win­ning novel Cloud Atlas, pub­lished in 2004, was un­filmable — but it must have been ter­ri­bly tempt­ing to at­tempt to bring to the screen a se­ries of in­ter­con­nect­ing sto­ries span­ning 500 years, from the past to the dis­tant fu­ture. When Hol­ly­wood by­passed the project it was taken up by a con­sor­tium of Ger­man com­pa­nies in­volv­ing the tal­ented di­rec­tor Tom Tyk­wer, whose Run Lola Run (1998) is a small mas­ter­piece of ten­sion and cin­e­matic skill. For Cloud Atlas, Tyk­wer shared the writ­ing and di­rec­tion with the Wa­chowski sib­lings, Andy and Lana (for­merly Larry), fa­mous for the Ma­trix tril­ogy. The re­sult is a hugely am­bi­tious at­tempt to bring in­tractable ma­te­rial to the screen — not en­tirely suc­cess­ful by any means but, on the other hand, never dull.

In the book, six sto­ries were told, each set at a dif­fer­ent moment in time, each rep­re­sent­ing a dif­fer­ent genre — ad­ven­ture, com­edy — and each one in­ter­rupted at a cru­cial point. In ad­di­tion, the pro­tag­o­nist at the cen­tre of each suc­ceed­ing story was seen to be read­ing — or watch­ing — the pre­vi­ous story. The film­mak­ers nec­es­sar­ily have made con­sid­er­able changes to this sce­nario.

In essence, the six sto­ries in the film are as fol­lows. In 1849, on a trip sail­ing the Pa­cific, Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), a young ad­ven­turer, be­friends Au­tua (David Gyasi), a slave. In Bri­tain in 1936, Fro­bisher (Ben Whishaw), af­ter an af­fair with Six­smith (James D’Arcy), ob­tains a job as as­sis­tant to a fa­mous com­poser, Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broad­bent). In San Fran­cisco in 1973, jour­nal­ist Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) is in­ves­ti­gat­ing a dodgy nu­clear fa­cil­ity and falls foul of Lloyd Hooks (Hugh Grant). In Lon­don in 2012, Ti­mothy Cavendish (Broad­bent) finds him­self con­fined against his will in a nurs­ing home run by for­mi­da­ble Nurse Noakes (Hugo Weav­ing). In Neo Seoul in 2144, Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae) is be­ing in­ter­ro­gated by the Ar­chiv­ist (D’Arcy) about her part in a rev­o­lu­tion against the state. Fi­nally, on ‘‘ Big Is­land 106 win­ters af­ter The Fall’’, Zachry (Tom Hanks), a griz­zled goatherd who speaks a strange lan­guage, joins forces with Meronym (Berry), who comes from an al­to­gether higher strata of hu­man­ity.

Em­pha­sis­ing that all th­ese sto­ries are in­ter­con­nected, that, as Sonmi-451 ex­plains, ‘‘ From womb to tomb we are bound to oth­ers — past and present, and by each crime, past and present, we birth our fu­ture’’, the Wa­chowskis and Tyk­wer cast their ac­tors in mul­ti­ple roles. Thus Weav­ing not only con­vinc­ingly plays the nurse (who looks like a fugi­tive from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) of 2012, but also a gun­man in 1973, a mid­dle Euro­pean col­league of the com­poser in 1936 and a sin­is­ter crea­ture called Old Ge­orgie in the dis­tant fu­ture. The same goes for other mem­bers of the cast, even — most un­wisely — to the point that Sturgess, D’Arcy and Broad­bent all ap­pear as Asian characters (with the sort of make-up once used in Hol­ly­wood films such as The Good Earth) and

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