By Ari Dassa
Cloud Atlas is big, smart entertainment by the directing trio of Andy and Lana Wachowski (Bound, The Matrix, Speed Racer) and German director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, Perfume, Heaven), based on the popular novel written by author David Mitchell. That’s a solid collection of talent to pique your interest as a film viewer, but if that’s not enough, the story takes place in different centuries, from the late 1800’s to a post-apocalyptic future, and the ensemble cast, led by veteran actor Tom Hanks, play multiple roles in each of the six intercut narratives.
At nearly three hours in length, Cloud Atlas is certainly a lot to digest in one viewing, but the film is as fun as it is ambitious and engaging. A big factor in one’s enjoyment of Cloud Atlas will be in how much genre filmmaking excites you as a film goer. Some people love to dive into genre films and enjoy them based on the terms laid out by the directors, while others are repelled by some of the indulgences and excess found in a lot of those movies.
Cloud Atlas is a massive genre film. In fact, it features just about every genre you can think of at one point or another and is absolutely giddy in the way it wants to play in every genre sandbox. There’s an A-list science-fiction thriller in a chapter set in futuristic Korea complete with Matrix-esque action, while the aforementioned post-apocalyptic storyline features the best of the B-movie world with cannibals, a hallucinatory, foul-mouthed devil (played by Hugo Weaving in one of the many great villain roles) and even its own version of a broken-down English language where characters say dialogue like, “tell me the true-true” and a bunch of other things I quite honestly didn’t really understand.
There’s a dark comedy about Jim Broadbent trying to escape a retirement home (it’s hilarious), there’s a story about an evil medicine doctor on a ship traveling the seas in the 19th Century, there’s a love story about a musician in the 1930’s, there’s a 1970’s mystery with Halle Berry as an investigative reporter who gets herself mixed up with the wrong corporation. Each narrative is tied together by the idea of eternal recurrence, or transmigrating souls, or reincarnated souls, and how actions and choices define who we are as people and the effect it has on the future.
Like other films by these directors, themes are discussed in detail and the message is clear and succinct. There is no subtlety in “Cloud Atlas”. This film is designed as an epic, and the concepts and ideas presented by the story are meant to stir conversation about what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. Even though it’s heavy on plot, the film is never confusing. The greatest strength of Cloud Atlas is how the intercut narrative engages the viewer and holds your interest from beginning to end. It’s emotional and funny, thrilling and sad, violent and beautiful.
People will debate the choice of using actors in multiple roles and using make-up fx to change an actor’s race and gender in certain cases. I did find it a bit distracting to see American and British actors show up as Korean, but I also found it wild and brilliant to see someone like Hugo Weaving show up as a villainous female nurse trying to imprison poor Jim Broadbent. Cloud Atlas is certainly strange, and like the best genre movies, it deals in extremes. If you like guys such as Brian De Palma and Quentin Tarantino, you’ll probably enjoy this movie a great deal. Like those directors, the Wachowskis and Tykwer have a strong love for cinema tradition and making movies big, bold statements as entertainment. Cloud Atlas is old-fashioned and cutting-edge, it’s contemporary and classical, it’s cinema as the ultimate spectacle.
Cloud Atlas is directed by Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, and Andy Wachowski. The film is based on the novel by David Mitchell. Cloud Atlas stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon. The film is scheduled for release in the United States on October 26, 2012. Running time 164 minutes.
Ari Dassa is an independent filmmaker who has written and directed short films and a documentary. He was the founder of a film review website called ‘The Aspect Ratio‘, active between 2006 – 2011.