Director: The Wachowskis, Tom Tykwer
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Bae Doo-na, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, Zhou Xun, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, Jim Sturgess, David Gyasi, James D’Arcy, Susan Saradon
Cloud Atlas, based on the novel by David Mitchell, tells the story of six interlocking time periods to present a tale told over a thousand years. From a period during slavery in the United States, to pre-WWII London, to the nuclear fueld 1970s, to present day, and a science fiction-esque Neo Seoul, and finally in a dystopian future, Cloud Atlas carries an enormous scale where actions can have repercussions in the events of the other time periods. Using some of the biggest names in acting, in multiple roles, the Wachowski Starship and Run, Lola, Run director, Tom Tykwer bring this sprawling story to the big screen.
First of all, the cast. With such a huge and diverse international cast, there are some mighty impressive names up there. As each actor took on multiple roles, makeup was used, to varying degrees of believability to enter each actor into their own role of a specific time line. Some negative makeup effects included the whitewashing of Halle Berry and Zhou Xu and the odd Oriental look of William D’Arcy and Jim Sturgess, but it does improve as the film goes on. Once you get a feel for the character, you begin to let the performance shape your vision as opposed to the famous faces. Some characters indeed blend in so well you have a difficult time spotting them.
Bae Doona, a personal favorite of mine, gives probably the most compelling performance in the Neo Seoul segment. She plays her role of an awakened fabricant, with doe eyed confusion at first, but she quickly learns to steel herself as her role becomes clear. She also has surprising grasp of the English language as well, not something you see too often in her native Korean films. Jim Broadbent also does an admirable job in many of his roles, in particular his take on Cavendish in a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest riff. He injects quite a bit of humor in this role and it serves to quite nicely, bring levity into an otherwise very serious film. Overall, the cast does a phenomenal job across the board, playing multiple characters. I do feel that Keith David was woefully under-utilized, but he does have one of the few action scenes in the film to shine.
In terms of production, the film is top notch. Fantastic set design, camera work with movement for dynamic scenes, and a more intimate static approach to the slower dialogue driven sequences demonstrate a real flair for the visual. It is a bit odd how the work of three different directors can so coherently combine in this picture. Hats are off to Alexander Berner for his staggering task of editing. I’d be surprised to see him go without an Oscar nod this year. If you have seen the trailer, you may have already heard some notes from the film’s ‘Cloud Atlas Sextet.’ As a piece written for the film, it has quite a bit of importance to one of the timelines, and it is a very memorable melody. Haunting, but hopeful, it is a beautiful piece of music.
One of the film’s main themes is the importance to our actions on others. While hardly a new sentiment, it is presented in a way that begs the question, ‘what are we worth?’ According to the film, it can be whole lot, or a whole less, depending on our choices. The idea of controlling your own destiny is a very alluring premise and one to which I subscribe. This film offers a glimpse of the potential you or I have to change the moments that define you, to see things for how they can and maybe should be. It is tough to describe, but the world is your opportunity. Your choices, your kindness, your malice, your everything, live on well after you’ve departed.
In the end, Cloud Atlas was a film with which I had great expectations. While it did not live up to those, probably unrealistic, hopes, Cloud Atlas is nonetheless a great achievement in filmmaking. It is a sprawling tale that advocates kindness and warns against cruelty. With such a huge ambition and grand scale, Cloud Atlas is definitely worth a look. It requires active viewership however, but should you be able to focus, you will not find a more challenging and compelling film this year. Hugely recommended.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Blade Runner, Prometheus, and Natural City