‘Cloud Atlas’ has more plots than an Asian military coup but that’s what makes it great.
Directed by Wachowski siblings, Andy and Lana (The Matrix trilogy) and German Tom Tykwer (‘Run Lola Run’), ‘Cloud Atlas’ is the film adaptation of David Mitchell’s 2004 novel of the same name.
The book, which was short listed for the 2004 Booker Prize, has something in common with Yann Martel’s ‘Life of Pi’ in that many film makers thought that it would be impossible to adapt for the big screen. They were wrong.
‘Life of Pi’ director Ang Lee was rewarded with an Academy Award last weekend for his magical visionary interpretation of Martel’s book and the recent offering from the Wachowskis and Tykwer proves that all it takes is an unconventional approach to make something amazing.
‘Cloud Atlas’ is an exploration of human experience and existentialism throughout six different eras, stages, periods of time or whatever you want to call them.
The over-riding theory put forward during the film is that even when a person dies, his or her actions can impact upon the past, present and the future.
The film’s musings are at the same time profound and sagacious and ‘Cloud Atlas’ succeeds in achieving what it set out to do and that is to make its audience think.
Some films require very little attention; you know the type, the ones when you watch the first ten minutes, nod off for half an hour, wake up and you’ll have missed virtually nothing.
‘Cloud Atlas’ is definitely not one of those films. It’s staunchly engaging and despite the film’s 172 minutes, it never drags and towards the end, as all of the plots weave together the feeling that you’re left with is one of the most rewarding you’re likely to experience this year.
The first stage is set in the south Pacific in 1849, the second in pre-war Cambridge and Edinburgh in 1936, the third in San Francisco in 1973, the fourth, modern day England in 2012, the fifth, Neo-Seoul (Korea) in 2144 and the fifth, a post-apocalyptic Hawaii in 2321.
A variety of actors play different characters throughout the six interrelated and interwoven stories.
Tom Hanks (‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘Big)’ plays sinister Dr. Henry Goose in the first stage and by the time the film moves forward to Hawaii in 2321 he is Zachery, a goat farmer whose actions lead to the monumental progression of the human race.
However, in stage four Hanks plays Dublin gangster turned novelist Dermot Hoggins and goes on to claim the accolade of the worst ever Irish accent heard in a movie - and yes, it’s worse than Brad Pitt’s in ‘The Devil’s Own’.
The film operates chronologically to a certain degree but as soon as its concept becomes clear, it jumps back and forth with ferocious speed but it’s a triumph and altogether cohesive.
English actor, Jim Broadbent (‘Gangs of New York’ and ‘Another Year’), gives a standout performance in the film.
There’s great opposition in the form of Halle Berry (‘Monster’s Ball’), Jim Sturgess (‘Ashes’), Doona Bae (‘The Host’) and Ben Whishaw (‘Skyfall’) but Broadbent’s ability to play ageing decrepit composer Vyvyan Ayrs and loveable rogue Timothy Cavendish is fantastic.
Broadbent’s performance as Cavendish in stage four is so endearing and enjoyable that it would have made a wonderful standalone film.
‘Cloud Atlas’ is certainly not flawless and the decision to cast all of the actors as various characters throughout the six stories is not convincing. Some of the make-up (namely noses) used to transform the actors is laughable and at times was reminiscent of Spitting Image.
It’s shocking to think that ‘Cloud Atlas’ could have so easily been abandoned several times and the $100m budget makes it the most expensive independent film ever to be made but it’s a film that belongs in the movie hall of fame and like many great films it’ll take multiple viewings before it can be suitably appreciated.
The film’s score is written by Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer. It’s one of the most beautiful scores of 2013 and it baffles me why it wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award.
It’s focus and examination of existentialism will divide opinion but I defy anyone who engages with the film to not leave the cinema feeling happy and with a smile on their face.
VERDICT: 4/5 - ‘Cloud Atlas’ is as unique a film experience as anyone can expect. It’s visually astonishing, breathtakingly unconventional, well acted, it has an amazing score and its conclusion is wonderfully rewarding. The decision to have the film’s actors play many different roles is not as successful as the directors might have hoped. Tom Hanks’ selection of artificial noses is distracting at times but as the film edges towards a conclusion all fall into place like a beautiful mosaic.