The 2004 award-winning novel by British author David Mitchell has been ambitiously turned into a motion picture epic by, not one, but three directors: German filmmaker Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and the Wachowskis (The Matrix Trilogy). So what’s it about? The official film description of the plot is this:
“An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.“
Hmm. For those who are familiar with the novel there are actually six different stories that are linked together, all of which are tackled on film in just under three hours. Sound awesome, or like a trainwreck beyond epic proportions? Read on!
The Good: This film is beyond grand in scope. Each of the stellar cast members (Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon, Halle Berry, among others) takes on multiple roles in the six story lines. Although the film is directed by three different people, the strategy works to give the six narratives their own feel and flavor. Altogether, the film never feels disjointed, as one story is intertwined with the next, and any confusion you might have had at the beginning of the film disappears once each of the storylines gets resolved. The cinematography is gorgeous, and the musical score is glorious. An amazing feat on all levels.
The Bad: The strange language that Hanks and Berry speak to each other in the “Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After” storyline, which is set in a post-apocalyptic world, on what was known as Hawaii, and where they speak a hybrid pidgin English dialect. Talk about confusing! And since there are half-a-dozen storylines that you have to keep track of, this isn’t a film where you can just sit back and relax. This is some mental exercise, yo! Also, the latter half of the film gets a tad preachy about love, humanity, one’s actions affecting others… blah, blah, blah. We get it!
The Gay: For those of you familiar with the book, they fully develop the “Letters from Zedelghem” storyline, where a young, penniless composer named Robert Frobisher (played by the gorgeous Ben Wishaw) has a romance with Cambridge academic Rufus Sixsmith (James D’arcy). It’s beautifully romantic and heartbreaking, and it’s great to see a fully fleshed-out gay love story in mainstream cinema. Also, the cast take on both male and female characters, which makes this film a fun gender-bending guessing game of “who’s who.” (Stick around for the credits; they show each of the film’s stars in each of their roles!)
The Fugly: Some of those prosthetics and makeup jobs that they did to the actors. Yikes! Sometimes they’re flawless, but other times they just make the actors look so strange… let’s just say that Berry does not age well. There were also many times where I was reminded of other big flicks. (I was half-expecting to see an appearance by Wilson the Volleyball from Cast Away in those island scenes with Hanks.) And Berry? Princess Leia just called: She wants her Return of the Jedi look back.
Does it soar through the clouds, or does it need an Atlas?: Overall, this film’s ambition matches its efforts. Epic in scope, and deeply rooted in emotion, it deserves at least one viewing on the big screen. But Cloud Atlas is so captivating, you’ll want to take in repeat viewings long after you watch it for the first time. It’s that good.
The Grade: A