Directors: Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, Tom Tykwer
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant
CHALLENGING is a phrase that could easily be attributed to David Mitchell’s 2004 Booker Prize-nominated novel Cloud Atlas. In adapting it for the big screen, the directors faced a challenge on an altogether different scale. Their solution was to spend more than $100 million assembling a stellar cast to produce a beautiful three-hour epic.
This film is made up of a sextet of stories spanning half a millennium — from 19th century Antipodean sailors to post-apocalyptic tribes visited by super-advanced observers in the year 2321. Stars including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and Susan Sarandon play different characters in each of the six tales.
To complicate matters further, the stories are not told chronologically, but intercut in a seemingly random order making it look as if the editor had an accident in the cutting room. But this is all part of the master plan. As the film’s tag-line states, “Everything is connected”.
Thematically, Cloud Atlas considers the perpetuity of the soul and how past events resonate and echo through time to influence the present and ultimately our future. Taken independently the stories are hugely different in style, ranging from farce to sci-fi action, but the words, images and actions within them are repeated to reinforce the interconnectivity of things. Alongside some A-list acting performances, the results are impressive.
Despite this, the film is not without fault. Its narrative ambition and disjointed structure will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Prior knowledge of the book, though not necessary, certainly helps in following the events on screen. Employing lead actors to play different characters in each of the different narrative strands is ingenious, yet confusing. At times it is difficult to avoid playing “spot the actor” in each of the different segments. One moment we see Hugh Grant as a slimy, grinning Seventies energy baron, the next as a cannibal from a dystopian future.
Some stories are more engaging than others. The tale of Sonmi 451 is a reminder of the groundbreaking Wachowski sci-fi The Matrix, while the Jim Broadbent farce The Ghastly Ordeal Of Timothy Cavendish feels a little lightweight and out-of-place. Along with his costumes and make-up (including many prosthetic noses), Tom Hanks’ accent wobbles all over the place, especially when attempting an Irish villain. Aside from all this, I loved the film. On leaving the cinema, I instantly wanted to see it again.
Whether you are familiar with the book or not, if you are interested in ambitious film-making on a grand scale, give Cloud Atlas a go. Take a good run at it and allow it time to settle — after all you have 172 minutes. It screens tonight and Sunday at Henley’s Regal Picturehouse.