Six timelines, multiple central characters, multi-layered narratives with identical structures and a menagerie of genres that more than defy convention all at the hands of three directors. Cloud Atlas is the love child from writer/directors; Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski (The Matrix, Bound) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, Perfume; The Story Of A Murderer) and is based on the novel by David Mitchell. Does the ambition of this 172 minute long film outweigh the quality? Does Hugo Weaving really play an Asian man AND an older woman? Find out what in the hell I’m talking about after the jump.
Six stories shared among a cast which consists of; Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Ben Whimshaw, Jim Sturgess, James D’arcy, Hugo Weaving, Doona Bae, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon *breathes* AND none other than Mr. Romantic comedy himself, Hugh Grant in a collection of roles that are unlike anything he or any of these fine actors have ever dabbled in before. They change shape, age and even nationality, make-up brilliance aside, it’s a sight to behold. Cloud Atlas‘ time lines range from 1849, 1936, 1973, 2012, 2144 to 2321, and in each we focus on a character at a different point in time and how they defy the odds in every way imaginable – in most cases through love.
A young American lawyer (Sturgess) befriending a slave during the slave trade. A young English musician (Whimshaw) constantly threatened with his past by a famous composer intending to steal his work. A journalist (Berry) is given the scoop of a lifetime which incriminates a wealthy and powerful businessman if only she can live long enough to report it. In hiding from a gangster who wants 50 thousand pounds from him, a publisher (Broadbent) is tricked into staying at a nursing home where he’s poorly treated by the staff against his will, naturally an escape is to be planned. We witness an uprising from a clone (Bae) in a futuristic Korea after being recruited by a rebellious free agent and finally, Zachry (Hanks) a member of a tribe who are the remains of humanity in the very, very distant future who are once again facing extinction. How do ANY of these stories piece together? Why do actors play multiple roles? Why six stories just to make a simple point?
Cloud Atlas is a film that cannot be described then critiqued in 750 to 800 words, not even 2000 words could do it justice, we are essentially given six films that each have a same narrative and tone structure. Despite the many messages that can be extracted from the film, they’re all easily accessible and palpable, however the method is not. The detail in each story’s progression and each character’s odyssey are far from simple, for if they were, we’d merely have a kaleidoscope of actors in funny makeup and a collection of pretty images. There is blood, sweat and tears in almost every frame, bleeding genuine emotional film-making, that has been thought to be long gone from cinema these days. But then again what does it say that the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer can make six great films in one picture, compared to many film-makers who fail with one?
As stated above, there are many messages that can be extracted from Cloud Atlas, but I only want to focus on one, human predictability. These stories, almost all of them, in theory can be considered predictable, in terms of outcome. Why? Because they’re ones we’ve seen and heard before. We’ve seen the story of the chosen protagonist who disobey’s society’s commands and rebels, thus resulting in liberation and freedom. Cloud Atlas‘ two greatest achievements are the conjoined progression of these stories and the emotional resonance each one has. The focus of this film isn’t on how this story in other films is predictable and tedious, but it asks why we are continuously telling that same story. It’s in this gobsmacked reviewer’s humble yet somewhat fractured opinion that we need that reminder of who we are and individually what we’re capable of when everyone around us says yes, yet you want to shout no. Cloud Atlas is that reflection of us shouting no.
I could go on, and I wish I could, but this is the movie you’ve been waiting to see yet don’t know it, you and I deserve better than the multiplex fodder we’re fed day-to-day, like the cast and filmmakers of Cloud Atlas, we need to rise above the mediocre by defying cliché and embracing emotional yet honest storytelling. Cloud Atlas is a masterpiece. Film lovers, it’s not perfect, but if it were, it’d defeat the entire purpose of the film.
By Chris Elena
Director(s); Andy & Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer
Writer(s): David Mtchell (Novel). Andy & Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Ben Whimshaw, Jim Sturgess, James D’arcy, Hugo
Weaving, Doona Bae, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant
Runtime: 172 Minutes
Release Date(s): Australia: February 28, 2013; USA: October 22, 2012