Directors: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski. Cloud Atlas/X-Filme/Anarchos et al (15)
Producers: Stefan Arndt, Alex Boden, Grant Hill, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski.
Writers: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski.
Camera: Frank Griebe, John Toll.
Music: Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek, Tom Tykwer.
Sets: Hugh Bateup, Uli Hanisch.
Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Xun Zhou, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Robert Fyfe, Gotz Otto, Sylvestre Le Touzel.
Jumping between different time periods and based on David Mitchell’s novel, the lives of seemingly unconnected people across the ages are brought together as their actions impact on others in the past, present and future. One soul turns from a killer into a hero and another sparks a revolution that reverberates across centuries and throughout the cosmos.
I love the ephemeral existence of going to the movies. How a film can lift you up to take you far, far away from the thuddingly dull mundanity of everyday life for a precious couple of hours and plop you in another world, either one recognisably like the one you will go back to or something completely different. Cloud Atlas, encompassing as it does so many worlds, is a valiant if not entirely successful example of this.
It resembles a beguiling, dazzling but uncomfortable mash-up of D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916) and David Lynch’s Dune (1984, the poster closely resembles that wobbly sci-fi epic’s). Despite sharing those film’s tendencies to reach far beyond its grasp, it has a lot more heart amidst the artifice and grandeur than they ever managed.
As Forrest Gump once noted about boxes of chocolate, “You never know what you’re gonna get” and you certainly don’t with Cloud Atlas.
No surprise then that Forrest himself (Hanks) crops up in one of the panoply of roles on display. He is game if nothing else; successful isn’t always at the forefront of your mind though when you see him as either a vicious, Dublin gangster with a mouthy ‘Oirish’ accent or a balding, garrolous Scottish landlord. Where he does strike lucky is in the futuristic sequences as a schizophrenic goat-herder romancing Berry or a terrifying ship’s doctor slowly poisoning rich passenger Sturgess.
But when you’re playing seven different roles, as most of the cast are, you have a high betting average of getting at least one of them right. The casting agents deserve all the plaudits for probably sweating blood and tears to assemble these people in one film.
The rest of the starry cast are pretty much up for it and there are some stylish turns amidst the dross: Berry as a seductive Jewish emigre, Broadbent as a bent publicist imprisoned in an old people’s home and determined to escape, Bae as a monotone, revolutionary clone in futuristic Korea. D’Arcy impresses the most in his roles, whether as a gay, whistle-blowing scientist in 1930’s Britain and 70’s America or a blankly efficient futuristic interrogator.
Latex.com could probably have floated themselves on the stock exchange after the exemplary overtime the make-up team put in to making the cast look (slightly) dissimilar for each characterisation.
The problem with film’s such as these, massive in scale and scope, disparate stories stretching across centuries of existence, is the need for an effective link to weave all of the elements together. Intolerance failed on a huge level; using Lillian Gish as a woman eternally rocking her child in a cradle merely baffled WWI audiences and frustrates modern viewers. Cloud Atlas has a similar problem; the remnants of some good stories on their own are quite strong, but without an effective link in the narrative until much later in the film, they seem quite adrift.
When the theme of the film becomes apparent (a few choice lines that hug the stories together), it’s difficult to tell whether one is knocked side-ways by the film-makers’ audacious approach, relieved that a somewhat gruelling journey is over or simply desperate to go the toilet. Probably all three at the same time, though difficult to tell in what order (at 2 hours 44 minutes in duration, the latter feeling might figure largely).
The propensity for film-makers to make such large-scale films when something more concise would suffice is a matter for further debate elsewhere, what isn’t is their writer’s lack of humour to sustain an audience on such long trips. Apart from Broadbent’s scenes as the publicist, seen in flash-back sustaining serious injuries from a well positioned cat when he is trying to lose his virginity, there is something of a funny-bypass here. Still, the images are sometimes quite incredible and it’s fun to scratch your head and try to piece together the celluloid jig-saw.