Adapted from the novel by David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas tells six main stories across a period of several centuries. Those six stories involve:
A young man from a wealthy family who’s life has been changed by what he’s seen with slavery.
A vagabond composer/musician who seeks to find love and make the music of his life.
A crusading journalist who’s uncovered corruption with a nuclear power company.
A publisher who’s found himself in trouble through his debts.
A serving class woman who could be the key to an uprising in a dystopian future.
A tribal leader in a devastated future who’s haunted by his own demon for cowardice in letting his brother be killed.
Though they are all separate, they are also all interwoven showing us that we’re all connected whether it’s through the smallest acts of kindness or the greatest moments of catastrophe.
That’s the premise of Cloud Atlas, a thrilling epic ride across time brought to us by an equal epic teaming of directors; Lana and Andy Wachowski (the Matrix series, Bound and Speed Racer) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, The Princess and the Warrior and Perfume) The six stories aren’t told as separate pieces, but instead are all interwoven together with timelines changing after each scene. It might be a little disconcerting at first, but pretty quickly it does indeed all gel together. Maybe the best way to think of this film is like a cosmic version of Lawrence Kasdan’s Grand Canyon or Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. While it’s message might be obvious, i don’t really find anything wrong with that. Every now and then, we sorta need this type of film just to remind ourselves that we’re all part of a bigger picture.
It’s definitely an ambitious production, and some might even think pretentious. I don’t necessarily mind a little pretension if the heart and drive is there, and it’s definitely there throughout every aspect of the film. Though it’s two separate directing units, so to speak, it’s pretty seamless in it’s presentation. Cloud Atlas runs nearly three hours long but thanks to some extremely skillful editing it moves at a breakneck pace, though it still gives you the chance to soak it all in. The production values are high and quite beautiful and equally complimented by an emotional score from Tykwer working with Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek.
The greatest thing that Cloud Atlas has going for it besides it’s directorial vision is an absolutely amazing ensemble cast that literally plays parts in every single story told through the film. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry lead this cast as it’s biggest names, but the film isn’t all about their characters, though each plays six different characters in the film. I watch Hanks in this in particular and not only do I admire his performances, but just give him all the credit in the world for putting himself in the hands of these directors to use him in ways he’s never been used in before on screen. This cast doesn’t stop with Hanks and Berry; it also includes Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw Keith David, James D’Arcy, Xun Zhou, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant, all at the very top of their games here. I was particularly impressed with Broadbent, Weaving, Sturgess, Bae and Grant- really enjoying seeing Grant play so against type in almost all of the sequences. It really is a cast to die for and they’re all committed to seeing the directors’ vision shine through.
The one criticism that I can certainly understand that some might have is the obviousness of the make-up with some of the players. In some instances, the make-up is totally seamless while in others it is obvious, though I tend to think that some of that is by design as well, basically to make those certain characters stand out just a bit more. Just a word of advice though, stay through the end credits because each actor is actually shown along with their credit and shown in all of their appearances through the film. When you see this, you’ll see some instances of the make-up that will truly astound (for me, it was Hugh Grant as the Kona Chief).
Cloud Atlas is indeed a sprawling epic in the truest sense. It’s message may be obvious, but there’s nothing wrong with that when it’s presented with this amount of heart and conviction, and underscored through a truly lavish production. Cloud Atlas is a movie that demands to be seen on a big screen to truly appreciate it’s scope. It’s a meaty and lengthy piece, but it moves at an extremely brisk pace and by it’s end… well, I kinda hated to see it come to an end. I was ready to sit back down and watch it all over again. It’s one of those movies that I think will reward even more on re-viewings and be the sort of thing that you’re going to want to re-visit every now and then. Highly, highly recommended… don’t miss this one.