Directors: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tom Twyker
Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Hugh Grant, Doona Bae, Susan Sarandon
Running time: 171 mins
What’s the story:
The Wachowskis, the siblings who gave us The Matrix trilogy, team up with Run Lola Run helmer Tom Twyker for this massive, ambitious stab at bringing David Mitchell’s “unfilmable novel”™ to the big screen. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent and others cross characters, race, and gender in a sprawling six story six century epic, from the 19th century slave trade to the far flung post-apocalyptic future. You need to pay attention to the criss-cross, flash back n’ forward n’ back again plot, but for those willing to take the journey (and witness their favourite actors in a variety of wigs and false noses) there are wondrous sights to behold on the way up the mountain.
What’s the verdict:
Three hour movies are commonplace multiplex cramming fodder in this cheaper-than-film digital age, but few have Cloud Atlas’ mission statement.
A mammoth meditation on slavery and freedom, revolution and oppression, love and hate, hope and despair on epic and intimate scales? Check.
An impassioned love letter to the transformative power of art throughout mankind’s history? Check.
A slave-times set psychological chiller, love story, conspiracy thriller, old-folk’s home sit-com, Matrix-like actioner and Mad Max style adventure? Check.
And a gallery of Hollywood stars gamely donning all manner of make-up and accents to present a Buddhism 101 story that we are doomed to repeat mistakes throughout the ages until learning that we’re, like, all connected? Check again
With Cloud Atlas rarely have highbrow and sigh-brow entertainment danced so closely. And not everyone will stick the course through numerous pretentious prolapses (including a 1930s set tale about music student Ben Whishaw locked in a battle with composer Jim Broadbent and the post-apocalyptic segment with Tom Hanks speaking pidgin tribal English.)
And for all the centuries of plot, Cloud Atlas feels very familiar. The same-actor-different-century stories echo that Hugh Jackman clunker The Fountain, the tricksy structure recalls Watchmen, the futuristic Korean set rebellion tale feels like another Matrix rip-off (complete with an Asian-ified Hugo Weaving) and Halle Berry’s 70s’ set conspiracy thriller is very All The President’s Men.
Plus, through the vagaries of cinema release patterns, this trails after Lincoln and Django Unchained as the third film in two months to tackle slavery.
And while the actors crossing genders and race (particularly Weaving who also becomes a Nurse Ratchet type character for one story) nimbly avoids accusations of insensitivity, some of it seems very Little Britain (Berry’s Fu-Manchu like Korean surgeon, Doona Bae’s Mexican minimum wager, who still speaks with a Korean accent).
Yet, like the film itself riffing over and over on the same themes, it’s hard not to return again to the bravura of the filmmaking. For every snort of derision there is a moment of magic and once the six stories are established and begin cutting between each other (giving the impression this is all happening simultaneously) there is exhilaration to what cast and crew have set out to achieve.
And any film that convincingly paints Hugh Grant as a tribal warlord must be doing something right.
You’ll love it, you’ll hate it, you’ll be dazzled and enraged and while the story is no more profound than any other blockbuster, glittering visions will linger in the mind.