An ambitious concept proves to be a gripping ride!
Simply where do you begin to explain the ambitious concept of Cloud Atlas? Having been labelled with the “largest independent movie ever undertaken” tag, David Mitchell‘s novel of six separate tales across a vast expanse of time, almost seems unimaginable to make the journey from book to film. Not for the sibling team of the Wachowskis though, whose work include The Matrix and V For Vendetta, along with German director Tom Tykwer, who together have accepted this mountainous challenge and delved into the underlying philosophical ideas of Mitchell’s novel to produce something truly extraordinary!
From a mid-19th century Pacific ship journey to a dystopian tribal-lead island of the far out future, interconnecting themes are threaded along each of the six stories through 1930’s Edinburgh, 70’s San Francisco, present day and a futuristic Seoul in-between. With the help of different characters played by Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant and Jim Sturgess, just to name a few among a huge ensemble cast, each story carrying a consequence for the next.
Unlike the structure of the book which opens each story forward through time in its first half, then concluding back through time in its second half – the film cleverly dares to juggle all six plots at once. Not knowing where we will be flung off to next and not allowing us to settle into one surrounding, the film cross cuts all six brilliantly from one-minute finding yourself in pre-War British green countryside, before quickly plunging into the neon-lit future setting of East Asia, and vice versa. Time hopping with elegant editing, whilst finding moments to heighten drama and tension between two or maybe three plot strands seems to have been a joy for the directors to have played around with. But more so, using that as a crucial technique as we’re never allowed to be bored, despite riding this adventure for almost on three hours.
As far as performances go, the character and cast list is so long that it is difficult to define a single stand out one, even though you may have your personal favourite. But as far as main actors go you have Tom Hanks who pushes the boat out in playing broadish personalities with an arrange of ever changing accents; we have Halle Berry who has a consistency through all her characters that feels the most believable; Wachowskis lucky charm Hugo Weaving gets to him enjoy himself whilst Jim Broadbent has that jolly granddad essence while Jim Sturgess really comes into his own and demonstrates what he can bring. Hugh Grant doused in prosthetic make up is a sight to behold but does it well, while the main heart-felt story is of Doona Bae‘s who Sonmi character ultimately drives the message of the film and her fragility and innocence towers above any other. However, one downside is there felt as though there’s one character many having the prosthetic treatment, and while male actors filled in for female characters and vice versa, it did feel it took the authenticity away every so slightly.
Don’t let the running time put you off, not one story seems to be weakened by the others. Each is directed with visionary style and the very framing of interaction between characters is done with efficiency. We have the stand out moments all there on show, whether it be Hugo Weaving‘s evil assassin Bill Smoke aiming his gun at a door as the other half sees Halle Berry‘s Luisa Rey inquisitively taking a look, unaware of danger. Or Tom Hanks‘, Zachary in the midst of cliff-hanging drama as devilish top-hatted hallucination ‘Old Georgie’ walks horizontally towards. As well as just the visual richness on offer, the Wachowski’s look to make their film as tight as possible, in every way they can, knowing the huge source material they’re wanting to be faithful to.
But the great credit it must take is its complete boldness in bringing something intuitive to screen, and to attempt to mix a variety of genres into one. Putting this into a category of action, comedy or historical is just impossible to do, pinning or comparing it with other works is a task in of itself. The great achievement though, whilst taking a $100 million budget and creating something so rich – is in its adaptation. It would have been very easy to have followed the format of the book, but to allow the directors to bring an array of ideas to the screen of racism, murder, deception, love and friendship just makes the adaptation from the novel step up a level. Adhering to the novel is met emphatically and fans of the book won’t be let down by the faithfulness of each story, but the crucial success is creating a script that works to the extent that the visual pleasure on screen of travelling through the ages comes second to that.
Even as there are great moments of experimental mixes of genre and grand spectacular set pieces, it’s the screenplay that takes the biggest bow of them all. Whilst it’s full of originality, especially in a world of reboots and remakes, there’s something truly enigmatic that makes a second viewing even the more tempting. But one thing is for sure, you will be gripped by it every second of the way.