Epic. Masterful. Brilliant.
Cloud Atlas (2012)
Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, Tom Tykwer
Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Doona Bae
Having not read David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (it's in the pile just waiting to be read, I swear), I was completely and utterly ignorant as to what to expect from Lana and Andy Wachowski's big screen adaptation, also directed alongside co-composer Tom Tywker. It wasn't until the first trailer hit our screens earlier this summer that my interest was really piqued. Was it a science fiction movie? Was it a drama? Was it an action flick? It was tough to tell, but one thing's for sure it certainly looked epic.
Fast forward to this year's TIFF and I found myself in a packed theatre bustling with excitement and expectation for the movie, which was fast becoming one of the most talked about movies on the massive TIFF timetable. Still not entirely sure what I was letting myself in for, aside from knowing that the movie had a mammoth 164 minute running time, I approached with a completely open mind.
As I have since learned from those who have read the book, Cloud Atlas is something of a divisive beast. There are those who love the way it meanders around multiple stories, while others see lack of focus and too many liberties taken by Mitchell, when it comes to the big screen version, practically everything was a delight.
For those of you still unaware of the general idea of Cloud Atlas, it centres around the idea that we and our loved ones are all connected, in this life, lives that have come before and lives that have yet to be lived. Certainly, it's quite heavy material to ponder, but the way it plays out is nothing short of masterful.
With stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon and Doona Bae all playing multiple roles across the various stories, it can be quite a jarring experience at first. The tales unwind, initially at least, as wholly independent narratives. The faces, the recognizable ones at least, are familiar, but each of the settings, the characters and the time periods vary wildly. From the 1800s through to the distant future, Cloud Atlas flits between each story seemingly at random, building towards numerous peaks, dipping into pensive troughs and even going so far as to provide us with the occasional dash of humour (mostly courtesy of Broadbent's Timothy Cavendish) without ever feeling laboured.
This in itself is a feat worthy of substantial praise, as there are few movies of close to three hours in length that haven't once had me checking how long was left during more pedestrian moments. It's a testament to the strength of the source material that the directorial trio had to work with that things never for a moment start to grate, while the initially confusing cuts between the different stories and time periods seamlessly start to come together almost effortlessly, building subtle connections at first, before offering enough to connect the remaining dots in the run up to the finale.
Each story has its own distinct flavour, with different stars taking leads here, supporting roles there or cameo appearances elsewhere. There are fantastic turns from Sturgess as Adam Ewing, Hanks as Zachry Bailey, Berry as Luisa Rey and Meronym, Weaving as a distinctly Agent Smith-esque Bill Smoke and the ridiculously scary (you'll need to see it) Nurse Noakes and Bae as Sonmi-451, while Grant and Sarandon have some meaningful peripheral roles that, while not taxing their thespian abilities all that much, still add quite bit to the overall product.
With so many actors playing multiple roles, it was always going to be important that the prosthetics department was up to the task of giving each character a unique look, however things weren't the raging success that they could have been. This is particularly noticeable in the 2144 version of Seoul, where distinctly un-Asian actors are given distinctly strange looking Asian facelifts that don't particularly work. The same is evident when Berry takes the role of a white woman, and Bae a full-blooded American.
Thankfully, there's not quite enough there to cause any major problems for the audience beyond a couple of disbelieving scowls, or amused titters here and there, for Cloud Atlas very much stands on the strength of its writing, performances and direction.
The action scenes, of which there are a few, are tastefully executed, with just the right emphasis on impactful graphic violence there to shock the audience. Those easily offended may have a bit to get up in arms about here, with the C word and the N word making a few appearances, however without giving too much away about where and when they feature, we found their inclusions played a more important role to the overall narrative than merely being there for shock value.
The comedy moments are delightfully ridiculous, with Broadbent's Cavendish centred parts taking the bulk of the responsibilities on that front, while the overall feeling crafted is one that will tug at the heart strings, get the blood pumping and excite the mind.
Clichéd and all as it may sound, Cloud Atlas is a picture that genuinely has all the bases covered. It takes a pinch of everything, mixes it with a dash of everything else, throws in some masterful performances, great writing, beautiful scenery and still manages to feel cohesive at all times.
Many will disagree, but for my money it's little short of a masterpiece; three hours of brilliance with very few missteps. Like the movie itself, five stars just isn’t enough.