Tag Archives: Ben Whishaw

Cloud Atlas – Ambition accomplished

Star-crossed lovers: Halle Berry and Tom Hanks after the fall of civilisation

Star-crossed lovers: Halle Berry and Tom Hanks after the fall of civilisation

“Everything is connected” runs the rather unimaginative tagline for Cloud Atlas, a troubled, difficult but admirably ambitious fantasy/science fiction/drama feature, financed by a variety of German sources. The film, adapted from the highly regarded novel by British author David Mitchell, began life as a project of Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), who co-wrote the screenplay with the Wachowskis. Soon the trio agreed to co-direct the film, with Tykwer taking half of the film’s six inter-connected storylines, and the siblings taking the other three.

The generations-spanning tales of Cloud Atlas, loosely tied together by texts within the film, themes, and shared casting, are as follows:

  1. Following a successful slave deal in the Pacific Islands in 1849, a young lawyer (Jim Sturgess) sails back to America, but the voyage becomes a perilous one after he contracts a serious illness.
  2. In 1936, a Cambridge student of music (Ben Whishaw), disinherited by his father for being gay, flees to Scotland, where he teams up with a retired composer, but finds their collaboration inspiring his own opus.
  3. In 1970s San Francisco, a plucky reporter (Halle Berry) uncovers a conspiracy at a newly opened nuclear power station.
  4. A publisher (Jim Broadbent) in London in 2012 checks into a hotel recommended by his grudge-addled brother, only to find he has signed himself into a nursing home and cannot escape.
  5. In a dystopian future Seoul, Sonmi 451 (Doona Bae), a genetically enhanced clone designed only for fast-food service, discovers she can be more than her DNA demands, and joins an underground resistance movement.
  6. After the fall of civilisation, a goatherd (Tom Hanks) and his tribe of noble savages, who worship Sonmi as a god, live in fear of the barbaric hordes on their island as well as scientifically advanced visitors from across the sea.


Eschewing the book’s segmented rise and fall structure, in favour of intercutting between the six storylines, works in the film’s favour. It allows for some clever montage work, with narrative monologues stretching the story’s themes across the time divides. It also increasing the tension of certain action sequences by cutting them up with their equivalents in other times and places.

Clone but not forgotten: Sonmi (Doona Bae) learns of the real world from Hae-Joo Chang (Jim Sturgess)

Clone but not forgotten: Sonmi (Doona Bae) learns of the real world from Hae-Joo Chang (Jim Sturgess)

Of course, this intercutting leaves Cloud Atlas open to swathes of narrative imbalance. The 2012 storyline is so flippant it could be a Richard Curtis film – there’s plenty to enjoy in it, but its tiny scale is reduced to nothingness by the sky-cycle chases of Neo Seoul. The film spends nearly thrice as long detailing Tom Hanks’s adventures after the fall as it does in Jim Sturgess’s cabin on the voyage to America. Halle Berry’s storyline is paced like a trashy airport novel (a manuscript based on it is seen being considered by Jim Broadbent in the present), which works within itself but often jars when we return to other less genre-fixated storylines.

The casting is mostly strong, with only Hanks struggling at times to break free of typecast expectations. Ben Whishaw is admirably passionate. James D’Arcy, playing the only character to appear in two of the stories, transfers from youthful exuberance to bittersweet elderly nostalgia adeptly, with the help of some excellent makeup. Hugh Grant and Susan Sarandon deserve credit just for turning up. Hugo Weaving manages a new feat by stealing the film six times, in one story as a ruthless hitman, elsewhere a hallucinated manifestation of madness and evil, and again in full drag and fat suit, as the Nurse Ratched to Jim Broadbent’s Randle McMurphy.

The devil's in the detail: One of Hugo Weaving's memorable turns in Cloud Atlas

The devil’s in the detail: One of Hugo Weaving’s memorable turns in Cloud Atlas

Some of the multi-casting is confusing. Halle Berry appears briefly as a slave in the 1840s – are we to believe she is an ancestor, or a pre-incarnation of her ’70s character? If Tom Hanks is a reluctant hero in both the ’70s and after the fall, why would he be a psychotic Irish gangster in 2012? (the less said about that accent the better)

There is no denying that Tykwer and the Wachowski’s ambition got the better of them at times. Neo Seoul is all-too Blade Runner meets Minority Report. A scene charged with homoeroticism comes sadly laughably out of left field. The hybrid language of the people living after the fall often causes the ear to strain so hard to understand that the muscles in the back of your neck begin to seize up.

But the script is full of beautiful moments and flourishes of Mitchell’s language, and the themes – free will, doing what is right, and being more than what you are told you can be – are nicely fleshed out, even if they are not exactly revelatory.

Despite being directed in two chunks, Tykwer and the Wachowski’s film always looks and feels like the creation of one storyteller, a testament to their collaboration. Tom Tykwer’s score, composed with Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil, deserves special mention for tying so much of the action together, and never feeling out of place in any world or time.

If music be the food of love: Jim Broadbent and Ben Whishaw

If music be the food of love…: Jim Broadbent and Ben Whishaw

Its problems are many, but the sheer ambition and scope of Cloud Atlas makes it a worthy recommendation, far closer to Griffith’s Intolerance than Bill Forsyth’s Being Human.

Like recent visual splendours such as The Fall and The Fountain, which were similarly brought down by the weight of their own aspirations, Cloud Atlas’ appeal will not be great, but its small band of supporters will be fearsomely passionate about it. It will quite likely become a must-see for young students interested in philosophical films of supposed depth, regardless of what substances they consume to watch it.

More than anything else, Cloud Atlas should be noted for maintaining interest across its extreme length of nearly three hours, rarely losing one’s interest, even if that interest is severe dislike.



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Skyfall – Bond’s mid-life crisis overcome

Bond at 50: Skyfalling in love all over again

Skyfall, the 23rd official James Bond film, is only the third in the series (after Tomorrow Never Dies and Die Another Day) to have a title with no connection to the life or works of Ian Fleming. It will surprise viewers therefore that a wholly original Bond movie could be so steeped in the mythos and lore of Agent 007, so much so that it seems implausible that Skyfall is not somehow the direct product of the mind of Fleming.

As much concerned with the nature of Bond (and MI6) as was 2006’s barnstorming reboot Casino Royale, which launched Daniel Craig in the role, Skyfall creates with that film a superb double act concerning the how and why of Bond, while it both paints over and makes up for the problems of Bond’s last outing, the entirely wretched Quantum of Solace.

Tearing the reins from Marc Forster, director of that runt of the Bond litter, is Sam Mendes, the deservedly acclaimed auteur behind American Beauty and Road to Perdition. A filmmaker experienced in tension and quick shoot-outs rather than all-out action sequences, Mendes has brought all his experience to Skyfall and made it very much his own Bond movie. Here he has upped the character drama at the expense of some of the more no-holds-barred action of previous Bond films, but it makes for a far more appealing film experience, if perhaps, for some, a less adrenaline-pumped spy adventure.

However, there’s no shortage of action in Skyfall’s opening sequence, as Bond (Craig) chases a target through the streets of Istanbul, speeds a motorbike across its rooftops (where so recently Liam Neeson was seen limping along in Taken 2), before a classic punch-up atop a hurtling train. It’s the film’s most thrilling sequence, but that is not to say the film peaks early, given the intrigue that comes later.

After an early setback, Bond returns to duty when a cyber-terrorist with vengeance in mind for MI6 boss M (Judi Dench) rears his head. Encouraged by a fearful M and watched with caution by Ralph Fiennes’s somewhat slimy government liaison, Bond heads into the field to track down his enemy in Asia. Halfway through proceedings the villain is revealed to be Raoul Silva, played by a positively flaming Javier Bardem, in a scene that makes the homoerotic torture sequence from Casino Royale look like two men drinking beer and talking about football. In classic Bond style, 007 must stop Silva from extracting his revenge, but there are plenty of unexpected twists along the way.

Gayvier Bardem as Silva

On his third outing as Bond, Craig continues to revel in the role (even in the turgid Quantum of Solace he excused himself well), hitting all the right notes, while still managing to carry the repressed psychological damage that made him so endearing in Casino Royale. Judi Dench, having the biggest part she’s had since The World Is Not Enough, finds something new in the role, a mournful weariness that belies her administrative efficiency.

The expanded role for M comes at the expense of the Bond girls; Casino’s strongest suit. Bérénice Marlohe’s Sévérine could slot into any Bond adventure, despite a weak attempt to give her a tragic backstory. As MI6 field operative Eve, Naomie Harris carries herself with confidence, but the awkward flirty banter between her and Bond is largely forced, and has no pay-off until quite late in the game.

The only Bond girl you’ll ever need

Bardem steals much of the film as Silva, one part Hannibal Lecter, the other part Buffalo Bill. A late appearance by the inimitable Albert Finney (Tom Jones, Big Fish) steals the rest of it, with Finney wielding both a shotgun and the film’s best one-liner.

As the new Q, Perfume star Ben Whishaw is passable, although the late Desmond Llewelyn’s snark is deeply missed. “You were expecting an exploding pen?” Q asks as he gives Bond some simpler, tamer gadgets. It’s hard not to feel Bond’s disappointment, especially given that the one gadget he is given has a very obvious use that plays out exactly as you imagine it will from the moment Bond receives it. Thinking back, was the invisible car all that bad?

Tech support: Ben Whishaw as Q

Despite a running time of 143 minutes, Skyfall never loses its momentum, taking long pauses from the action that are full of rich character development. The script by Bond reboot pairing Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, teamed with regular Martin Scorsese colleague John Logan, bristles with energy in its scenes and dialogue. Only the classic Bond one-liners suffer, with the film’s most unique kill followed by a line so mishandled it doesn’t even deserve a groan. But the drama unfolds so brilliantly that such missteps soon fade from memory, and the film builds towards a climax more about Bond himself than any that has come before. The third act revelation of the meaning of “Skyfall” is perhaps the most exciting surprise in a Bond film since Rosa Klebb revealed a knife in her shoe.

There are plenty of references throughout Skyfall to classic Bond titles, while Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace are only alluded to in Bond’s continued drinking of his Vesper cocktails, rather than his traditional vodka martinis. If it weren’t for that, we could almost forget Quantum of Solace ever happened. A charming reference to the events of Goldfinger does become problematic, as the question arises as to whether Craig’s Bond is somehow the same un-ageing character who battled SPECTRE in the 1960s. It doesn’t distract from the film, but it will become a major talking point amongst Bond fans in bars and internet chatrooms everywhere.

Shot in rich colours by the Coen brothers’ regular cinematographer Roger Deakins, Skyfall looks better than any Bond film to date. Eschewing the frenetic Bourne-esque cutting of the two previous films, Skyfall is clear and bright throughout. One fierce, rapid, hand-to-hand scuffle between Bond and an assassin is shot from a withdrawn distance with the two characters in silhouette, backlit by an enormous video screen pulsating with colour. It conjures the opening credit sequences of Bond films while also showing off the filmmakers’ flair and originality within a franchise that many would accuse of having run out of ideas.

From Craig’s initial strut into focus, through Adele’s soulful title track right up to the film’s thrilling finale, Skyfall proves itself to be one of the finest films the franchise has seen. A fitting entry on the 50th anniversary of the release of Dr. No, Skyfall does not beg a sequel, but its last scene will have fans sweating for one.


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