David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
Taking on the task of adapting David Mitchell’s best-selling novel Cloud Atlas to the big screen was not just an ambitious challenge, but also a passion-driven financial risk that was seen as a chance for the Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer to make another mind-boggling concept, which was already written in the stars.
“[David] writes the novel, Natalie Portman reads the novel on the set of [V for] Vendetta, I see it, I read it, Andy reads it, Tom reads it and now we are here,” says Lana Wachowski, half the mastermind behind The Matrix, at a roundtable interview in Los Angeles. “We were given this book and it was an opportunity, it was the comet that came into our lives.”
Cloud Atlas follows six storylines spanning across five centuries, featuring an all-star Hollywood cast – Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant – that illustrates how the events, decisions and actions of an individual will transcend to others directly correlated with them in the future.
Because of the eternal recurrence consistency throughout the film’s reincarnation theme, Cloud Atlas became a once-in-a-lifetime project for actors to portray multiple characters in one film. As Harry Berry explained, “I loved the evolution of the characters and I loved the totality of every single one of them… Every character, every part that everyone had to play was equally as important to telling the story.”
The almost three-hour film can be a little complex with the multitude of stories, but one motive that prevails in every time period and lifetime was love. One of the film’s most captivating stories was a crime thriller segment that follows soul mates Isaac Sachs (Hanks) and Luisa Ray (Berry).
“My favorite role is Isaac Sachs, because he is literally a version of myself where he writes down these equations,” says Academy Award-winner Tom Hanks. “He writes the atlas, but comes across the cloud. He’s on the plane, and he says, “Okay, I’ve fallen in love with Luisa Ray and now things are profoundly different for me.” I relate to that, because that’s what I went through with my wife [Rita Wilson]. Without a doubt. So that happens. You have to be lucky enough to stumble across them.”
Even though Hanks may have had his fair share of luck in his personal life, Berry, his on-screen other half had her share of bad luck during the filming of Cloud Atlas. During the shoot Berry broke her foot off-set and worried she would derail years of planning of the Wachowski & Co. film.
“I thought after the day after it happened, I heard, ‘Lana and Andy want to come see you,’ I thought they were surely going to give me my papers and tell me, ‘Back on the plane,’” the Oscar-winning actress revealed. “But I was so touched ... I cried so hard when they said, ‘No, a bump in the road. We’re going to fix this.’”The Wachowski siblings and Tykwer became accustomed to challenges as they pursued getting Cloud Atlas being made, because it was considered “unfilmable” and similar to the siblings’ first blockbuster The Matrix, the film is demanding and took years to finally get the green light from Warner Bros.
But parallel to the film, Wachowski & Co. — who didn’t receive any paychecks as directors, even investing their own money into the project — maintained their faith, carrying out their labor of love, which will leave audiences thinking about their own lives and they way they’re living after they walk out of the movie theater.
“The making of this movie was filled with challenges and conventions that sort of had to be transcended, “ Lana explained. “Even in the convention of the film everyone looks at it and thinks, ‘Oh, is this an art house film or is a mainstream film?’ It’s a convention that the movie is attempting to transcend.”
Cloud Atlas hits theaters Friday, October 26.
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures (3)]
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