For once, a film that truly has everything: period drama, star-crossed love, thoroughly British farce, 70s conspiracy thriller, sci-fi action and even post-apocalyptic adventure. And in Cloud Atlas, it works. The Wachowskis (V for Vendetta) and Tom Twyker (Run Lola Run) team up to film the unfilmable. It’s a feat that earns them marks for effort from even the most critical of reviewers.
Cloud Atlas adapts David Mitchell’s 2004 novel of the same name, which weaves together six stories and a cast of dozens in a quest for truth and freedom. A backdrop of Big Bads with cannibalistic tendencies — metaphorically or otherwise — provides the power struggles that make the book, and film, so compelling.
The novel is something of a layer cake, with each story cut in halves. The Wachowskis’ and Twyker’s solution is to flit almost constantly back and forth between narratives, running the risk of a choppy final product. But each cut feels completely natural, even between such distinct genres. This consistent editing pulls the thread tight across the six stories, assisted by an emotive score (Twyker, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil).
In another bold move, a central cast (including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess and Doona Bae) play multitudes of characters. These transformations are often astounding (Hugo Weaving plays a female nurse as well as a devil), and sometimes disastrous. In the story set in Neo Seoul, Weaving and Sturgess play Koreans — unconvincingly; for this, Cloud Atlas’s make-up department has won both mockery and accusations of racism.
That said, the Wachowskis seem to delight most in the futuristic Neo Seoul sequence, with its holographic interior design, hyper-consumerism, and fabricants — simulated humans used as slaves (and worse).
Cloud Atlas’s many worlds are lovingly rendered. Whatever your final opinion, it’s hard not to go along for the ride.