Cloud Atlas ****
Running time: 172 minutes
Directed By Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski and Andy Wachowski
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Ben Whishaw, Susan Sarandon, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, James D’Arcy and Jim Sturgess
AT NEARLY three hours Cloud Atlas is a bum-numbingly long feature that’s an over the top, self-indulgent affair, that’s plot would take nearly as long to explain as the film itself. While far from perfect, there’s something strangely captivating about a feature with such an outlandish concept.
Adapted from David Mitchell’s 2004 novel of the same name, the film’s narrative explores the lives of individuals through six interrelated stories that stretch through time itself. Through the past, present and future, from the South Pacific in the 19th Century, to a tropical island in Earth’s distant post-apocalyptic future. The film explores how the actions of individuals impact upon each other, with recurring themes and ideas rippling through each story.
In production for almost four years and financially backed by a variety of sources, the film with its reported budget of over $100 million is one of the most expensive independent movies of all time. Jointly directed by the Wachowski’s and Tom Tykwer sharing directorial duties throughout the feature, each directing three of the stories within the film.
The film boasts a truly stellar cast of Hollywood A-listers and familiar British faces all of whom play a variety of characters within each of the six separate stories. Some with greater success than others, Tom Hanks for instance is wonderful as the scheming Doctor Henry Goose in South Pacific storyline but his performance as the violent Irish crime writer Dermot Hoggins is truly dreadful, with a cringe worthy Irish accent that rivals Tommy Lee Jones’ awful attempt in the 1994 film, Blown Away.
The film’s first hour is hard to follow and slightly disengaging, with so many characters and plot elements introduced everything felt a little clumsy and fractious. But stick with it, as once the various plots started to connect together within the overall narrative, everything started to come together and shift into gear. But given the film’s tediously long runtime it will surely test the patience of even the most patient viewer. After reaching the two-hour mark, everything began to resolve itself and the last hour did slightly drag. A tighter control of the screenplay and a more ruthless editor could have easily cut a good half hour out of the film’s runtime.
Some of the stories work better than others, the best of which is the present day set plot involving an indebted book publisher dubbed by his brother into unwittingly signing himself into the care of a nursing home. Similar to One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and featuring a truly bizarre performance by Hugo Weaving in, whose character’s compassion for those in her care would rival even that of the infamous Nurse Ratchet. The segment is held firmly together by Jim Broadbent’s fine comedic performance, the story would nearly have worked as a full-blown feature itself.
But other stories aren’t as gripping, notably the post-apocalyptic segment on an irradiated desert island, With Tom Hanks’ and Halle Berry’s characters talking in a simplistic English dialect, it was a sluggish cumbersome affair that dragged out to a laboured conclusion.
In true Wachoswi style theirs some brilliant special effects on display, especially within the Blade Runner-esque story set in 2144, but the CGI laden story did sit slightly off kilter with the rest of the film’s on-going narratives. Some of the prosthetic effects on display within the film were simply amazing, with some of the cast members barely recognisable, I would recommend any viewer to stay for the closing credits to see the actor’s various guises.
Cloud Atlas will surely polarise opinion of viewers and critics alike, the concept might work better within the confines of a novel more so than on the big screen. It reminded me of Darren Aronofsky’s film, The Fountain, which shared similar themes and ideas, but at nearly half the runtime of this feature it was a much more punchier than this slightly bloated affair.
Taking these criticisms aside there is something that is strangely enthralling about watching such an over the top feature, that’s clearly a labour of love to the filmmakers themselves. A film from the joint minds of those behind the Matrix and Run Lola Run was always going to be a little out there, the cast put in mostly strong performances throughout the film and they are accompanied by some wonderful cinematography and beautiful musical score. It’s a far from perfect feature but it’s all the better for it, for what surely will become a cult classic in years to come.
Review By William McClean