Thee directors, six different stories, one film. It sounds like a recipe for disaster and yet somehow the trio of Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer have managed to create something a little muddled, but ultimately enjoyable and undeniably thought-provoking.
Cloud Atlas is an incredibly ambitious project. I haven’t read the source material (a novel by David Mitchell), yet it’s clear after ten minutes that the directors have chosen one hell of a book to adapt for the screen. Here’s why: Cloud Atlas tells six different stories that span hundreds, potentially thousands of years. Each story is set in a different time period with its own characters and plot, yet has the same actors playing different (the same?) people across time and space. Each separate story is sliced, diced and spliced together to form something roughly 85% cohesive.
When it’s all brought together, Cloud Atlas is a story about the perseverance of love despite all the forces that may work against it. Love is a natural phenomenon and two entwined souls will continue to find each other again and again, across the vastness of time. To be honest, the fact that they managed to convey anything this meaningful with such chaotic juxtaposition is an impressive feat, and for this reason alone the editing should be commended. Of course it isn’t perfect, there are several times where the pacing feels off, for example I often wished we could stay with one particular story for just a bit longer before moving on to somewhere (somewhen?) else. This problem only worsens as the film progresses and the intensity and stakes are raised.
There is some incredible imagery scattered throughout and some rather poignant character moments amidst the whirlwind of jumping back and forth through time. Performances are very entertaining given the diversity demanded by the script: Hugh Grant playing a post-apocalyptic savage, Tom Hanks playing an Irish thug (WARNING: cringe worthy accent), Halle Berry playing a white Jewess and Hugo Weaving playing a demonic, radiation-induced hallucination are all treats to behold. The actors can’t be faulted, they do a wonderful job. However there are some creative decisions that left me scratching my head.
One of the caveats of utilising the same set of actors for multiple characters is that they need to be coated in fifty layers of prosthetics and fake hair. In the case of Cloud Atlas, sometimes they pull it off and sometimes they really don’t. When they fall short of the mark the results range from laughable to just plain absurd. For the most part I could see past it and just enjoy the movie, but there are some instances where it totally broke the immersion for me. The curtain of movie-magic was torn down and I bumped my nose violently against the page. Hugo Weaving playing what is essentially a Korean Agent Smith, the Korean actress Doona Bae playing a white woman in pre-civil war America, it’s inescapably bizarre and problematic from a critical point of view, because I believe that the movie wouldn’t work in any other way. Orwellian doublethink in action.
It does make sense for a film that is all about breaking conventions to charge head first at such an ‘obstacle’ of cinema. A lot of people (and actors) would shy away from dressing white actors as Asian characters, black actors as white characters and Asian actors as white characters, but not these three. Like a gay interracial couple holding hands in a rural Australian pub despite all the menacing glares, they’ve taken the world head on and are proud of it. But is this enough reason to ignore the films obvious flaws? I suppose that’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself.
3.5 out of 5
“Bridge’a'broken, hide below. Hands’a'bleedin’, can’t let go. Enemy sleepin’, don’t slit that throat” – Abbess.