Another novel adaptation, this one a more recent publication. Surprisingly the film is an independent film made in Germany but you wouldn't think it, a huge budget, a cast of stars, directed by the Wachowski's plus the whole thing comes across like a Spielberg production, well to me it did.
The film is very much like 'A.I.' in my opinion, the reason being I'm sure it will split opinions right down the middle. I can well understand people loving the film but I can well understand people disliking the film for various reasons. There is a lot to take in and at almost 3 hours the film could come across as hard work.
So in case you don't know the film is basically like an old Tarantino concept, in other words its six different stories that are all woven into one, kinda. The stories are set over a vast time span from the 18th Century, the 30's, the 70's, the present day, early 22nd Century and the early 24th Century. I will give a brief little review for each section without trying to ruin the plots for you hehe.
1. The mid 18th Century, an American lawyer travels to the Chatham Islands (Pacific Ocean, southeast of New Zealand) to conclude business for his father-in-law. This story is set around black slavery and is probably the most predictable really. The sequences look realistic, rustic and lavish with a stunning old sea galleon and some tremendous location visuals. But to be honest this tale was rather average, much time is spend on the ship watching the main character 'Ewing' die slowly, but the moral of the story is obviously a good one.
2. Mid 30's UK, a bisexual young man works as an amanuensis for an old composer. The tale is set around a homosexual relationship and how (in this era) that could destroy a man's career and life. Easily the most bold and emotional section of the film simply because you don't often see gay relations like this in major films and it paints a taboo subject in a good light, somewhat. Ben Whishaw's role as the bisexual young man is (for me) the best performance of the film by far, the same can be said for James D'Arcy as 'Sixsmith' his lover. Again everything looks period perfect, the costumes are glorious and Broadbent's nasty blackmailing composer rounds off this story flawlessly.
3. 1973, California and this is Keith David's 'Shaft' moment. A journalist is trying to uncover the true facts behind the safety of a new nuclear reactor run by its shady US owner played by...Hugh Grant?. Again I must give kudos for the visuals here, costumes, cars, sets, props etc...its all very 70's. Unfortunately this story looks like a bog standard US cops/detective TV show, you half expect 'Starsky and Hutch' to pull up. On top of that its acted and played out like a crummy bog standard US cop TV show, was that the idea?, guess it was.
4. Present day, almost, 2012, UK. An aging book publisher comes into the money big time when his current author kills a critic. The author happens to be a local criminal gangster, thusly his actions sends his book soaring up the charts making tonnes of cash. A tale of two halves this one, firstly you have what I just described, then when this gangster sends his men after 'Cavendish' the publisher for their share of the profits, he must escape into hiding. What follows is a kind of twisted 'Roald Dahl' type children's fairytale as 'Cavendish' is tricked into an old age home from hell.
Broadbent once again in a tour de force of acting really nails this character perfectly with his typically eccentric British oddball looks. A kind of dark comedy this story, mostly narrated by Broadbent but with wonderful performances by a cast of pensioners and also from Weaving as the evil 'Nurse Noakes'...that character is so 'Roald Dahl-like' its untrue. A little gem this one, quite amusing with some terrific facial expressions and visual tomfoolery from Broadbent.
'is this some sort of kinky S&M hotel?!'
5. Set in a dystopian futuristic totalitarian state in Korea, the year is 2144. Clones are used for manual labour in various roles/jobs but are treated badly, like slaves. This story is told as an account by one clone in custody after her massive ordeal with a rebel movement set against the bad treatment of clones. By far the most exciting story in the film and easily the section where the Wachowski's love of sci-fi really shines through, you can tell its them.
We've all seen 'The Matrix' (right?!), well here you can see that influence breaking through. That's not a bad thing I must stress, this short story could easily be a film in its own right, the characters are really good very intriguing, the visuals are stunning, I LOVED Neo Seoul and its blue neon highways! and the action is superb. The plot is kinda over used and cliched but it works well, you get behind 'Sonmi' the clone, you want her to succeed even though you already know what happens. Naturally comparisons to other sci-fi films are inevitable, 'Blade Runner' and 'I Robot' springs to mind right off the bat, but that doesn't detract from this excellent future set tale of a police state set in the wild East.
6. The year 2321 and it appears mankind has be almost wiped out. What is left are small tribes of people living on an island (Hawaii) in primitive conditions. There are also other tribes of people who have turned to cannibalism it seems and other people that somehow remain in touch with modern technology. This is the story that bookends the film, it is also one of the weakest in my opinion as its a typically silly sci-fi post apocalyptic story that raises many questions. Once again I can't say anything bad about the location visuals or acting but its just daft.
Why would some people choose to live like primitives, some people choose to go about eating people, whilst all the while you could still live with modern technology, medicines, clothes, proper order etc...Did anyone else notice these folk all talked like 'Jar Jar Binks'??! the hallucinations of 'Zachery', the main character, aren't really explained, the cannibals are primitive like the rest but they have metal crossbows? etc..
All these short stories are interwoven amongst themselves throughout the entire film. This is admittedly one of the films issues as I'm sure some will feel confused and lost whilst trying to keep up with each tale. There are so many characters throughout, plus the fact that the actors play multiple characters in every story does make the film hard to follow at times. You find yourself trying to recall who plays who, or trying not to get mixed up with characters played by the same people in different stories. All the characters in the stories are reincarnated versions of their previous lives which we are seeing in each century/each story. So in some stories they are bad in some they are neutral etc...I'm not overly sure if their actions are suppose to effect the next incarnation though, or maybe redeem themselves in certain aspects, cos Weaving plays a bad guy all the way through...I think.
Despite that anyone can see the powerful performances by the cast in this. I like Hugo Weaving as an actor very much and I can't fault the guy here, he plays mostly nasty pieces of work but damn it he's so flippin good. As mentioned Jim Broadbent is on fire, the guy can do no wrong, he's like an ugly version of Anthony Hopkins (no disrespect Jim). Still unsure why they would cast Grant in some odd choice roles, an all American company boss?!, a heavy?!!! (thug) and the cannibal chief! wouldn't be my choice.
An odd entity really, you wouldn't think it was a Wachowski film (accept for the sci-fi bit) and the stories range from excellent to mundane. I found myself not really caring about certain plots and wanting them to spin on so we could get back to the more thrilling plots. I must also add that despite the effects and CGI being very very good throughout, the makeup on various characters is actually pretty bad haha. Using the same actors for various roles in various settings means people had to look Korean, Caucasian, female, old, bald, have different hair, coloured contacts etc...lets just say some times the actors looked good, sometimes like looked scary.
On the whole I enjoyed this epic story telling immensely, didn't think I would but I did. The film does appear to be quite politically correct also in some stories when you think about it (homosexual relations, multicultural relations...the future of the human race in the final tale) and to be honest it does drag. There are plenty of times when you think the film is gonna end, maybe it should, but it doesn't, it goes ooooon.
If this were indeed Spielberg then I'm sure some would say its close to a masterpiece, I don't think it is, for now, but its pretty close. The sheer amount of work and time to bring all this together is impressive, on top of that its a bloody good looking film with great acting. Thing is it may well take a few viewings to get to grips with it, I must admit to having to use the films (and novels) wiki to recap on all the stories. In time this could well be a classic.