By Jessica Delfanti | October 26, 2012
Director: Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowsky
Writer(s): Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowsky, Tom Tykwer
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Wishaw, Jim Broadbent, David Gyasi, James D’arcy, Hugo Weaving
With the amount of money, time, and effort a feature film requires, it is no question that few are willing to gamble reputations and resources on a risky project. Thus, it is exceptionally impressive that sibling team Lana and Andy Wachowski have managed to add another ambitious title to their track record with the marvelous Cloud Atlas.An epic of unique scale, Cloud Atlas slips the noose of the fantasy genre by taking a step back and embedding its more fantastical components in a landscape of social commentary. As a result, the film is an optimistic, panoramic view of humanity, a painted mural spanning an immense wall. Focusing in on the unique elements yields a specific angle, but each component simply adds to a greater picture.
The value of those elements should not be downplayed, of course. The stellar cast of actors portray characters of varying timelines, ethnicities, and moralities. Take, for instance, the ambitious Robert Frobisher (Ben Wishaw), who strives to compose his masterpiece while writing to his lover, Rufus Sixshmith (James D’arcy). Or the hardheaded reporter, Luisa Rey (Halle Berry), intent on uncovering a dark corporate secret. The kind-hearted, ailing Adam (Jim Sturgess), whose acquaintance with a freed slave (David Gyasi) defeats conventions. Sonmi (Doona Bae), a cog in a machine that dares to deviate from her directive. Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent), who finds himself the unwilling guest at an undesirable establishment. Zachry (Tom Hanks), a man living in a cannibal-ridden dystopia. And the many, many villains intent on maintaining the status quo, played by wonderfully diabolical Hugo Weaving.
If one can imagine the plotlines as points upon a nonlinear graph of time, it is even easier to imagine the mess it would make to draw connecting lines between them all. In clumsier hands, Cloud Atlas might have fallen into the ranks of novel adaptations that lose the bulk of their content or fail to make sense of the denser material, but Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis’ screenplay of David Mitchell’s novel is deftly handled. The variation of time periods interwoven with the repetition of the actors’ appearances and a steady pace with an escalating intensity deliver a film bursting at the seams with quality material.
Admittedly, viewers seeking something a bit more exciting and explosive may be dismayed by the quiet optimism of the film, which finds its climax in subtle shifts in the right direction rather than masterful action sequences. With a runtime of nearly three hours, the patience to allow the film to close its loop is essential for enjoyment of the film.
If one is willing to view the film with the same light-hearted introspection carried by the filmmakers, Cloud Atlas cannot disappoint. Aside from its touching optimism, the inspiring impression it leaves–that the action of one can ripple outward through time and space to touch the many–is particularly salient. In a time when the individual can feel so easily drowned by the greater population, Cloud Atlas’s message couldn’t be better timed.