Over a month since my last post. Time passes. Get over it.
Two films in the cinema recently. I know Cloud Atlas came out months ago in the US, but it was only out in the UK recently, and I caught it the other night at the end of its theatre-run.
This film was always going to be a challenge, for the film-makers and for the viewers. I’m a huge fan of David Mitchell’s novel and read it when it first came out. When I heard a film was being made, I scoffed at the idea. How on earth do you film a novel with six separate stories being told in a Russian doll structure, over several hundred years of time from a 19th century sailing ship to a far future post-apocalyptic society where everyone speaks in a pidgin language? A lot of what is enjoyable about David Mitchell’s novels is in the precise and beautiful language he engages for his prose, and I could not conceive of how such a film could be made, and how it would be enjoyable to watch.
I won’t say that I was entirely proved wrong, but the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer have made a tremendously ambitious film that weaves the six storylines together in a patchwork, rather than structuring it like the novel. A bold move that both works incredibly well and at the same time doesn’t quite convey the storytelling aspect that is so clever and integral to the novel – i.e. that each subsequent character is reading about the previous story in some format (a journal, letters, a mystery novel, a film, a confession etc…). It is present in the film, but the film concentrates far more on the interconnectedness theme and takes that to an extreme conclusion.
And that is the main difficulty I have with this movie. In an attempt to make the theme of connected souls through the ages, the film utilises the same actors to play many different roles in different timelines, which turns the experience of watching the movie into an actor-spotting game, and that in turn becomes more and more of a freakshow with Tom Hanks giving some ridiculous turns (including one unforgivable Scottish Accent and a vaguely passable Irish accent), culminating in white actors being transformed into Asians through a disturbing use of make-up effects and vice-versa (although I know which one will cause the most offence). I wondered if the film would have been any less enjoyable if they had simply employed different actors in the different timelines and actually, you know, used Korean actors for the Neo-Seoul scenes. I think with the distinctive visual style for each timeline employed throughout, it wouldn’t have made any difference, although I do understand why they did it, embodying the theme in what could’ve been a potentially clever manner, but I think ultimately devolved into some quite bad ageing make-up and racist caricature.
A shame really, as the film makes a solid attempt at bringing the book to the screen, with some extremely faithful scenes and good acting from Ben Whishaw and Jim Broadbent in particular. I did enjoy it, was swept up in the undeniably impressive visual grandeur, was also thrilled by the clever use of cutting between timelines to create tension. At times it feels like pantomime, but it’s better than you think, and if it introduces anyone to the magnificent novel then, job done.
Trance, I saw a couple of weeks ago on its release. A new Danny Boyle film is always something to be excited about. His ability to turn his directing hand to so many different styles so successfully is outstandingly impressive. His films are always stylish, shocking and thought provoking. Trance is no different in that respect, and I found myself thinking about it and discussing it for days afterwards.
It’s a difficult film to review without spoilers, but I’ll try.
It’s a film about identity, art theft and abusive relationships, which is already saying too much. Identity is the main theme, and the film itself has identity issues, with its point of view shifting unexpectedly and characters not being what they first appear to be.
I was riveted to it from start to finish. It is a head trip of a film, with a very blurred approach to what is real and employs some deliberately shocking imagery (some of which is gratuitous – in my opinion). It’s always thrilling and beautifully put together, but…
At its heart I found it rather a cold, empty experience. Because of the way it plays with identity and reality, identifying or sympathising with any character becomes impossible. Their true natures aren’t revealed until near the end, by which time it’s too late to feel empathy for anyone and events take increasingly more ridiculous and implausible turns. The acting performances are great from everyone involved – James McAvoy and Rosario Dawson in particular – which leads me to think it’s the fault of the story. With a film that is so trippy and mysterious, we the audience need something constant to grapple onto and pull us through the rabbit hole, otherwise the style overwhelms the substance and the film loses its emotional heart.
To discuss it any further would be to ruin the plot, and I would say that it will make enjoyable second viewing as it will be an entirely different film second time around. Took me back to the atmosphere of Shallow Grave with its implausible but entertaining story and its reprehensible characters. Entertaining but hollow.