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Directors: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
CAST: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Susan Sarandon
Running Time: 172 minutes
CLASSIFICATION: 16 LNPSV
It will be much easier to slip into the story if you’ve read David Mitchell’s ambitious if glorious novel which already had your head spinning as you tried to wander down all the highways and byways he was guiding, and sometimes steering and pushing, you along.
And perhaps if the directors (yes, there were three) had kept in mind that this one would appeal to those who’ve read the book rather than try to lead those through the maze who haven’t encountered the dense novel yet, it would have been a brilliant rather than an intriguing exploration of Mitchell’s quest to navigate the world.
One knew, when seeing the names of the directors, (Wachowski siblings best known for The Matrix and Tykwer for Run Lola Run) that they would give us an interesting read of the multi-layered Cloud Atlas which gathers together multiple stories, characters, places and periods to tell about the inter-connectedness of time and space and how the past, present and future seem to spin through, over and under one another in a way that resonates through time.
To try to give a synopsis is virtually impossible. There are six stories being told in different time zones with various characters living their dramatic and unusual lives seemingly with no connection to one another. But as the story unfolds, it becomes clear how the different strands are woven and thread from one tale to the next as it crosses time spans and zones in space in the most extraordinary fashion.
One of the ways the trio have captured this connectedness is to have actors Hanks, Berry, Weaving, Broadbent and Sarandon play different characters in the multiple stories as you draw the lines more easily between the characters and their extraordinary lives.
To read something where you can mull over the questions, think about what the author is trying to say and go back to passages later which might explain something you’ve just digested is something quite particular and perhaps why Mitchell’s book tops so many author lists as a favourite read.
To turn that into a watchable story is something quite different. And yet, with a strong script that works at least half of the time and directors who know how to keep you glued to the screen most of the time, this is a fascinating exercise which will be enjoyed more by those who at least know the premise of the book than those who just happen to catch the movie.
It’s an extremely clever and gripping exercise and yet the strongest criticism is that the film-makers don’t trust their audience. As the story runs its course, more and more explanations in the form of sermons are added to the script. It’s as if they’re worried you won’t quite catch the message and have to interject with messages as strongly as possible.
That’s counteracting the magic of Mitchell and his kind of storytelling. He trusts that if you open his book and he gives you the words, you will follow where his mind is wandering even if he doesn’t do it in a conventional sense.
Anyone who was familiar with Cloud Atlas would have known that the movie would be an impossible ask. It is that, but bringing together this kind of directorial talent it’s a film experience that has more pluses than negatives. Just watching the actors jump from one character to another will hold your attention and trying to sift through the different prostheses and wigs to identify the actors is also fun.
While it’s a rather messy but quite mesmerising exercise, which could be cut by a third turning it into a much better movie, Cloud Atlas fans will have a blast – for much of the time.
If you liked… Tree of Life or Avatar… you might like this one.