Cloud Atlas Movie Review
Mad geniuses Tom Tykwer (Perfume) and the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix) boldly take on David Mitchell's layered epic novel, which connects six generations through the power of storytelling. The film takes so many huge risks that it's breathtaking to watch even when it stumbles. And as each tale is passed on to the next generation, the swirling themes get under the skin.
The six stories are interlinked in a variety of ways, transcending time to find common themes. On a ship in 1849, a seriously ill American lawyer (Sturgess) shows kindness to a stowaway ex-slave (Gyasi). In 1936 Edinburgh, a great composer (Broadbent) hires a musician (Whishaw) to transcribe his work, then tries to steal the young man's magnificent Cloud Atlas symphony. In 1973 San Francisco, a Latina journalist (Berry) gets a tip about dodgy goings on in a local nuclear power plant. In present-day London, a publisher (Broadbent) is trapped in a nursing home by his brother (Grant) and plots a daring escape. In 2144 Neo Soul, an official (D'Arcy) interrogates a replicant (Bae) who started a rebellion alongside a notorious rebel (Sturgess). And in a distant stone-age future, an island goatherd (Hanks) teams up with an off-worlder (Berry) when they're attacked by a warlord (Grant).
While the themes in this film are eerily involving, what makes this film unmissable is the way the entire cast turns up in each of the six story strands, changing age, race and gender along the way. Even so, they're essential variations on each other. Weaving is always a nemesis, whether he's a hitman, a demon or a nasty nurse. Hanks' characters are always strong-willed and often badly misguided. Grant goes against type to play sinister baddies. And D'Arcy is the only actor who plays the same character in two segments, as Whishaw's 1930s young lover and Berry's 1970s elderly informant. Meanwhile, each segment plays with a different genre: seafaring epic, twisted drama, political mystery, action comedy, sci-fi thriller and gritty adventure.
Hanks, Broadbent and Grant are the most entertaining to watch, injecting energy in unexpected places. Whishaw, D'Arcy and Bae give the film its emotional notes. And Sturgess and Sarandon are kind of lost in the shuffle. Of course, all of this requires elaborate make-up and digital effects, most of which are pretty astonishing. Although some moments are rather laughably unconvincing, especially as the filmmakers overstate the overriding theme of human connectedness. The idea that love is all we need isn't hugely original, but this approach to storytelling is so wildly inventive that we're never bored in the nearly three-hour running time. In fact, the way it combines humour, emotion and drama is frequently exhilarating.