Review: Cloud Atlas (The Wachowskis & Tom Tykwer, 2013)

The first screen adaptation of a David Mitchell novel brings forth one of the most expensive independent films ever made. It offers six separate stories in their own right, taking three directors to make and an all star cast that play over five parts each. From directors Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) comes a title that was once considered unfilmable, but will likely be one of the 2013 big hitters. Fans of the book will be acquainted with the multiple stories that take vastly different turns in vastly different periods of time, though the film interchanges between stories differently from the books linear development. There is a plethora of stars that constitute the cast, for fans of names such Tom Hanks, Jim Broadbent, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving to name just a few they’ll be happy to know they give another class performance, they’ll be even happier to see them play up to seven parts each in the ever changing narrative structure.

Zachry (Hanks) and Meronym (Berry) in a grim post-apocalyptic world.

The film explores how actions and choices in one life affect each other in the past, present and future. Production companies feared the books narrative complexicity would not be acclimatise well in film format. The film does have an air of prior reading of the book is needed to completely understand each story, and to knit together the tempestuous transitions between stories. This has resulted in a mixed reception, being placed in categories of best and worst film. Film adaptations never exclusively adhere to their literature counterparts and fans of the book will likely only be the ones who fully understand the content in relation in the context. That been said the six stories seamlessly alternate, developing the story with a brilliant pace (sometimes it does confuse the audience as to what’s happening) which makes almost three hour epic feel much shorter than the running time. It’s the complete film, amalgamating elements of thriller, sci-fi, comedy, drama. Visually it looks like Pirates of Caribbean meets Tron meeting The Lord of the Rings meets Django Unchained and its like nothing seen before, the film must be viewed to appreciate the unique epic that it is, word of mouth simply will not suffice.

Halle Berry as Ovid… No, really, Halle Berry.

Fans of the book will be pleased to see many aspects of Mitchell’s previous work are still apparent in the film. His excellent one liner’s are still included with elaborate sentences that worked perfectly through narration, and wonderfully alluring characters. Hugo Weaving brings his usual class to the film, naming just one would be the eerie Old Georgie who haunts one of Tom Hank’s characters, Hanks as usual putting in a class act. Two up and coming names Jim Sturgess and Ben Whishaw interpret their multiple characters very well. The aforementioned actors would usually be enough to lead two films, but not Cloud Atlas, the great cast continues. Halle Berry gives another solid performance in portrayal of Luisa Rey, a story linked into Jim Broadbents interpretation of Timothy Cavendish. Names like Hugh Grant and Susan Sarandon are being forgotten, but to name every great member of the cast would be a very time consuming task, earnest to the sheer class of the picture. Certain aspects of the film fail to maintain it’s generally high-quality visuals; the make up wanes at times, most notably when they try to make Halle Berry a Caucasian female.

The films predominant themes of philosophy, activism, revolution, reincarnation, oppression, destiny, race, gender can get lost in the ever changing stories but are all apparent on reflection. This daring motion picture could set a new trend in terms of narrative structure and aesthetically pleasing viewing. The production companies that showed initial trepidation of the film will now be testament to the fear of Hollywood audaciousness, audacious is exactly what Cloud Atlas has in abundance.



James Jackson