Cloud Atlas is as affirming and earnest of a film as I can remember seeing in my many years of actively going to the cinema. I suppose it will be an easy film for some to make fun of and for some to hate, and has indeed proven to be quite divisive already in its varying critical notices. The film is the work of three writer/directors who have fused their artistic tendencies and capabilities into an incredibly cohesive and impressive package. Visually stunning, epic in scope, a strong score; the sort of film that you’re constantly amazed was ever made and happy it was. Equal parts comedy, romance, thriller, and dystopian speculative fiction, it really is an astounding mix of disparate elements. Sounds like the perfect film, no? The latter obviously has parallels to Lana Wachowski’s own life and although the nurse character provides some decent laughs, I was a little hung up on how it seemed one of the character’s main functions was to generate laughs purely based on the surreal sight of Weaving playing one truly ugly looking woman. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it.
The cast is an ensemble within an ensemble, with many stars playing multiple roles across various story lines. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, portraying three to four characters each, are clearly the names which dominate the scoreboard but every actor went well above and beyond for this production. Tom Hanks, in particular, is a genuine casting coup as he throws away his entire image and is given the opportunity to play a variety of characters that are unlike anything he has ever done before. Hanks is given the task of playing a multitude of characters that are confronted with the devil inside and he utilizes language and violence that some may be shocked to see Hanks use. At the same time, though, he is an actor that makes audiences effortlessly comfortable and that fact is clear and exploited. His performance as Zachry in the film’s final chronological story (that utilizes a fascinating evolution of the English language) is some of the best work of his career, yet some of his other characters are a bit more sloppy and hilarious.
On politics: Some people might feel like this film is liberally slanted, and it is in some ways. But I feel I can look at this in many conservative ways as well. The directors might not like that. Who knows. But I have done this many times through out. So I encourage you to not shy away and look deeper as sometimes the best artwork has the most meanings. Ultimately though this is a film about storytelling, and this is where it excels most. Each character in this film is a storyteller in some way, and thus this becomes not only a film about our shared humanity but about the importance of telling stories and sharing past memories. Cloud Atlas, then, is undoubtedly a story worth telling and sharing, and no matter how divisive it may be I suspect it is one we will be telling and discussing for many years to come. For me, it is a film that is hard not to like, for I am drawn to all its talents, yet I cannot consider it as revolutionary or even a masterpiece. The non-linear story structure was not the problem. If anything, it helps the film’s pace.
So, why exactly is this film being reviewed on an Asian film site? Jim Sturgess leads an entire storyline as a future Korean, and Doona Bae, a lovely Korean actress, plays a Mexican. These choices are not racist or obvious but rather confound the way in which we view race and identity, and suggest that as time passes our racial identity may become more and more obscured as humanity mixes and reproduces. The fact that you are interested in watching this film and that it was even made should be heralded as a collective success, because Cloud Atlas is a thought provoking film. Your personal and collective philosophies will be challenged, and your emotions will be engaged. Each of the six stories address mankind’s struggle against seemingly inexorable systems/oppressors, and resolve that love can help us overcome the worst hell. Is Cloud Atlas a ‘good’ movie? That’s really up to you to decide, as Cloud Atlas is many things. Perhaps too many things.