October 3, 2012
Written and Directed by: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Jim Broadbent and Hugh Grant
Love is such a simple but resilient concept. So strong is the idea of love that it’s etched on clothing, bumper stickers, skin and the walls of buildings. Though it’s not their best song, “All You Need is Love” by the Beatles has become an anthem for millions. Let’s face it, we are a society that loves love.
CLOUD ATLAS, the latest from the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, takes the idea of love and both blows it up and simplifies it to its roots. This is an epic movie about many things (human rights, loyalty, homophobia, racism, war) but at its core it’s all about the lengths people will go for love. It’s romantic, epic, unwieldy and absolutely brilliant. It’s not a film that’ll move everyone but it’s going to be very important to many.
Based on David Mitchell’s novel, CLOUD ATLAS is really six stories in one. As you know, the actors take on multiple roles, bouncing through time and space at a sometimes breakneck speed. Tom Hanks isn’t just post-apocalyptic villager Zachry Bailey, he’s also an outlaw author, a doctor from the 1800′s and nuclear scientist from the 70′s. Same goes for Berry, Sturgess, Hugo Weaving (who even plays a woman!) and everyone else. They all have a lot of heavy lifting here, like a high school drama club switching costumes for a play.
When the casting plans were first announced, I wasn’t sure it would work. It would be too noticeable, too cartoonish and too distracting. Having seen CLOUD ATLAS, I can’t imagine it any other way. Sure, some of the make-up isn’t perfect and sometimes it is very noticeable but casting every actor in many roles only strengthens the ideas and themes of the film and draws you to its drama and struggles. They appear repeatedly because the same ideas are touched upon repeatedly. They share very little but they are all fighting the same battles.
The beauty here is that every performer gets to play to their respective strengths. True to form, Tom Hanks is likable and loving despite all his physical changes. As she’s been in previous films, Berry is beautiful, inquisitive and resilient. Broadbent, Sturgess, Weaving and the rest also perform similarly to earlier roles but that’s the idea. The audience sees people they recognize and are willing to follow them as they go deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole. It’s a smart, subtle trick. I’m not sure this movie would have worked as well with a lesser known cast, it needs the familiar faces. The Wachowskis and Tykwer have assembled the perfect ensemble here. This is the only way to make this movie.
CLOUD ATLAS is a massive, ambitious and daring motion picture. It’s bigger than almost anything you’ve ever seen and reaches for the stars without any fear of failing. Ambition can be a dangerous thing but Tykwer and the Wachowskis have succeeded in nearly every way. The script, while sometimes too on-the-nose and a bit over-stuffed, skips along like a stone on water. The direction is both gentle and bombastic, never failing to mix intimate human moments with explosive action beats. Then there’s the flat-out brilliant editing by Alexander Berner and Claus Wehlisch. This is a movie that jumps around often while rarely holding your hand. Yet you never feel lost, you are right alongside the film at every step. The film makers have picked the perfect spots to hop around and Berner and Wehlisch have assisted them greatly with deft instinct. It’s a technical knockout.
Some will find issues with CLOUD ATLAS. It’s very long, it’s episodic, the script is cluttered, there’s a whole lot going on and things get lost along the way. While these are valid complaints, they actually enhance the picture for me. CLOUD ATLAS feels all over the map and filled to the brim but that’s the intent. This is a movie that will reward multiple viewings, it wants to change how you watch film. You can’t be a passive audience member. You have to dive into CLOUD ATLAS to truly enjoy and understand it.
Music plays a big part in CLOUD ATLAS. Not surprisingly, the film is easily compared to an album. You can look at it as separate pieces (songs) or you can embrace it as a whole (album). That’s the point of CLOUD ATLAS: it has many different characters in many different stories, living wildly different lives. Divided as they are, they are part of the same universe and struggle, they seek the same love and compassion. Hundreds of years, thousands of miles, endless variances and yet everyone is connected. Some things are stronger than space and time.