Six parts of history show the evolution of humanity from the 1800s right through to after the end of the world all linked together by reincarnation, hope and love.
One thing that can’t be put against Cloud Atlas is its ambition. Adapting the hit book by David Williams that is basically six stories intertwined by various pieces of dialogue, plot points and even setting and scene is something very few studios would want to attempt even if the book was a best seller. It was probably why directorial trio Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis had to get the film’s $60 Million+ budget on their own. Even the fact it has the Wachowski name is a risk in itself with the critical reaction to the Matrix movies and the box office failing of Speed Racer. Simply put, this is a film that was set up to fail. And yet…
Cloud Atlas almost feels like 6 different films linked into one. The Master and Commander style drama, the love story based in the early 20th century, the 70s crime thriller, the modern nursing home comedy, the futuristic Korean city on the brink of rebellion and the post-apocalyptic island Hawaiian island. The directorial duties were split almost evenly between the three with each having its own feel, texture and setting but also still feeling like it links with the overall bigger picture of circumstances to come with an excellent soundtrack. The teams of set design, make up, CG artists and location scouts all should be praised for helping with this especially makeup somehow making recogniseable film actors not look like themselves or even people from different cultures and ethnicities looks completely different yet almost realistic.
The fundamental of how it all comes together feel very simple to the main story but the real nuance comes from the small touches that link it together. Lines of dialogue from one part of history is shown as a much bigger deal in another and those hints link towards the film’s ending which, even if it’s a bit cliché, still feels satisfactory and gives you a sense of what it all means at the end and satisfies the emotional investment. This may also possibly be the film’s strongest point, being able to execute on the very lofty ambitions of Tykwer and the Wachowskis.
The cast is one of those you look at on paper and wonder how they are going to all fit together. Talent like Halle Berry, Hugh Grant and Tom Hanks are not often seen in movies with people like Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw and Xun Zhou and that is if you don’t include the roles played by Susan Surandon, Keith David and Hugo Weaving. Just like the premise, though, all of them step up their A-Game and somehow manage to turn something different in the major roles they play in their respective timelines and even the small roles they play in others. That in itself is one of the biggest reasons the film works because it genuinely feels like separate timelines linked by these people rather than actors being placed in their own time and separate from the others. It helps the synergy of the overall story. The one who makes this work the most is Weaving, somehow ending up playing the bad guy in every time but there is a very good reason for it. He is very entertaining and just plain hateable.
Cloud Atlas shouldn’t work. The lofty ambitions, the high budget and the people behind it, on paper, have it going towards a colossal failure that because of the self-funding, Warner Bros would not need to worry much about Yet it is pulled off with flying colours with it feeling like everyone involved put everything into it from the direction right down to make up, music and cinematography. Saying it is the best Wachowski work since The Matrix may be too obvious, but it does not make it any less true. It is an experience and one worth having even if is only once.
Cloud Atlas is out this week in the UK and on DVD/Blu-Ray on May 14th.