Ever since the announcement that Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell’s novel of the same name, would be adapted to the big screen, the decision has been surrounded by scepticism. Could it really be done?
Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer are the three directors of six storylines that range from the South Pacific of 1849 to a post-apocalyptic world of 2321, all shown in 172 minutes. Arguably one of the most polarising films of recent years, it may be on just too large a scale for comfortable viewing, but upon experiencing its often-baffling multiplicity, is comfort what we really want?
Despite some initially shaky editing, there forms a central theme, vocalised many times through adages of “our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb we are bound to others” and “what is an ocean but a multitude of drops”. The philosophical idea that everyone is connected, past present and future, in a film which comments on various forms of slavery, could seem irritatingly didactic, if not disfiguringly political. But the exquisite cinematography, art direction and stunning soundtrack correct this, as well as bringing seamlessness to the films endless transitions, which otherwise may have been harsh.
It is unfortunate, then, that faults begin to surface when Cloud Atlas tries to balance mainstream appeal with artistic integrity. It is not that these can’t coexist, but throughout its epic length the film becomes increasingly oversaturated with A-list actors that seem out of their depth, each playing numerous prosthetically enhanced characters across the various storylines. Tom Hanks’ portrayal of a disgruntled Irish writer with criminal tendencies in the year 2012, for instance, hasn’t even got the comic value to accommodate its badness, which disappoints considering the connotations of cinematic prowess his name carries. Such a sub-par performance fits comfortably with those of Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant, and Susan Sarandon to name just a few, which goes to show that the big-name Academy Award-winning club do not always play nicely with one another.
However, there are saviours in this area, with a fantastic performances given by Jim Broadbent and Ben Whishaw, the latter expertly balancing a hidden homosexuality with a drive to complete his beloved musical composition, The Cloud Atlas Sextet, from which the film takes its name.
With all this going on you have to think, even after the credits have accredited. But this intensity is very well balanced with the purity of intent of its script, which never patronises. Despite sometimes questionable delivery, once the whole point of the film is grasped it will seize your imagination, even if it is in the third hour. Indeed, the dramatic scale of multiplicity in its plot, as well as its production, daunts Cloud Atlas from the first five minutes, but to endure it is to find its value.
Dir. Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess,
Ben Whishaw, Xun Zhou, Hugh Grant