It may seem crass to include an entry only released in October of last year. Surreptitiously placing it along with a list of other films without the benefit of time and age for it to stand up against. Nevertheless, I was not only pleasantly surprised by the Matrix originators latest blockbuster feature; but was also desperately yearning for so much more after its nearly three hour long duration had concluded. Cloud Atlas is without a doubt in my mind one of the most interesting products to have ever been published by the Hollywood system for a very long time. A slightly ironic statement to those who are aware of Atlas‘ troubled search for domestic funding that eventually led to a myriad of international production companies financing the project. The inclusion of German filmmaker Tom Tykwer, as both co-director and co-composer in the project helped to keep a certain European attitude to many of the plots that revolve around in Atlas‘ narrative, but I’m just getting started on plot when it comes to this experience!
My reasoning for making such a clichéd statement over Cloud Atlas‘ originality is based on how the film is structured. 6 different narratives, featuring 6 different characters, in over 6 different time periods no less, with the same 6 main actors would be a nightmare for any filmmaker to make work. Luckily the former Wachowski Brothers (now simply known as the Wachowski’s) have banded together with Tykwer’s ability to shape non-linear narrative into one of the best international collaborations from an American distribution company. Tykwer’s previous films include the sublimely original “Run Lola Run” (1998), which when compared to the scale of Atlas’ ambitious narrative, acts as a short precursor to this main feature. The Wachowski’s have inhibited the very best of what a Hollywood production can bring to the world of cinema, and yet have allowed the sequences with the most gravitas to be helmed by a European director with a… less-than Hollywood vision shall we say? The final combination is one to be greatly admired, not just for its scale of pure spectacle or for the artistry of its production design (and believe me there is much to be enjoyed), but for its simple human emotion. Cloud Atlas is a take of humanity above all else, a message I’m sure some filmmakers would agree can get lost in translation once CGI explosions commence.
But to speak of the artistry of the films narrative structure and not include mention of its featured cast would be a pseudo-critical crime! Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving and Doona Bae, to just name a few, all excel within Atlas‘ framework. Each character plays a major and minor role in the 6 different strings of narrative that feature. Each becomes almost totally unrecognizable with wonderful make up and costume design for each time period presented. This is used to wondrous effect with Hugh Grant in a futuristic dystopian world period. Each actor takes on as varied a character as one could hope for when avoiding the danger of repetitiveness, without letting you lose the focus of the films overall emotional core. This phenomenal task for any actor to consider taking on should be given high praise indeed, despite the fact that certain actors such as Broadbent have become masters at playing characters in ambitious film narratives. But to level out this mountain of praise I will admit that the use of Tom Hanks in the film is a double edged sword. It is certainly unfair to claim that Hanks is the main actor out of such an eclectic cast, but I will confess his screen presence is more felt throughout. This can act as both a benefit with a certain selection of the roles he takes on in Atlas, and at other times a hazard! The worst of all of Hanks’ characters is introduced fairly quickly when we see Victorian sideburns and rather ‘large gnashers’ glued into his mouth. The result is sadly hysterical and distracting but only a small grimace when compared to the overall craftsmanship of the story.
The most touching sequences, from personal preference, is the love story shared by the enigmatic Ben Whishaw and James D’Arcy, who both carry forward one of more emotional strands within the cinematic structure. And what a structure it is! Cloud Atlas is the first Hollywood film I have seen to be truly unpredictable with its narrative path. Each story is perfectly edited by Alexander Berner, complimenting each scene’s with a different time periods almost as if watching a ballet or opera. No moment ever drags for too long or is skipped idly by. One could almost make a game out of trying to identify the same cast in different costumes and make-up! As music is a plot device within Atlas I would be remiss if I didn’t include note of the wonderful score composed by Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil, that very much like the editor, have wonderfully complimented the melody and musical motifs of each separate narrative. I know that I haven’t explained nearly at all what Cloud Atlas‘ story actually is, but I thought I’d leave the curiosity to the reader for once and not spoil what has become a pleasantly surprising, whilst daringly impressive production. Don’t let it’s trailer fool you however, Cloud Atlas is not last year’s Inception rip-off, it is a tale of human emotion, spun carefully over five hundred years with not only a capable cast and crew behind it, but also a perfectly capable audience to embrace it. Go watch!