Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell’s best selling novel, has come bursting onto screens from the pages from which it originated with astonishing results. If ever there was an argument for collaborative direction, this is it. From the people behind The Matrix trilogy and the director of Run Lola Run comes one of the most enthralling films of the year. Set across a series of worlds and eras, it shows how lives can be weaved together. The film makes use of its visual ability and tells the stories in a way that isn’t possible in the book.
Whilst it might not be a Best Picture contender, there should be a few acting nominations handed out and definitely one for make-up. Part of the fun of the film is working out which of the thirteen central actors plays which character. The reveal in the credits comes as quite a shock and is a testimony to the make-up department. It’s unbelievable what they’ve done; some of the actors are unrecognisable in their roles. The only one who suffers is Hugh Grant because, despite clearly having a lot of fun with his old codger role, his make-up looks rushed and isn’t anywhere near the quality of the rest of it. Having said that, it’s his best five minutes on screen for a long time, largely because he’s not playing the awkward English bachelor he’s so fond of.
The interwoven stories make for compelling viewing, and whilst some will say it takes away from the tension and action, it works. The majority of the time the stories mirror each other so the cutting between each one doesn’t take away from the atmosphere the film is trying to create. It’s cleverly put together and the dialogue over each segment, whilst making it feel a little like you’re watching the trailer on repeat, ties it all neatly together each time. It’s necessary to change the way the story is told within the film and they couldn’t have done a better job. With phrases that are used throughout the separate stories and themes within the score that crop up to tie lives together, it’s a beautifully put together film. The differing styles of the directors work well together when edited within each other, and for those unsure of who directed what, they are separated into segments in the credits. It’s quite obvious, and whilst it would be natural to be dubious of the two styles mixing but there’s nothing to fear here.
Speaking of the score, it’s worth having a listen before viewing the film. As a standalone series of pieces it is wonderful, but add in the visuals and it becomes something entirely different. The three composers have done a fabulous job. They have taken into consideration the eclectic mix of characters and tones of the stories to create something that clearly represents each one but ultimately comes together in a beautiful way at the end. It weaves its way through the film in much the same way as the phrases, characters and themes. If you need another reason to sit through the credits other than the character reveal, stay for the final strains of the score.
As an adaptation it stays very true to the book, with only minor details changed. This isn’t a book you need to have read before viewing. All the major points are kept with scenes that in the book aren’t hugely long, but would add too much to the already massive running time, being cut short with no consequence. For example, Frobisher’s journey to Vyvyan’s home is a good few pages in the book, but a simple shot of a train in the film. It will hold itself up as a standalone film without alienating fans of the book, and will certainly encourage people to read it.
Cloud Atlas is an astonishing film and achievement for the cast and crew. David Mitchell should be thrilled with the interpretation of his book. With a story as complicated as this, it seemed to be every screenwriter’s nightmare, but the three minds behind the script with the editors and directors have come up with something magical. The running time shouldn’t frighten people, it’s barely felt. With the mix of the score, engaging characters and the visuals, this an engrossing and compelling watch. The stories will pull you in and hold you relentlessly until leaving you feeling as though you’ve lived a thousand lives. The only problem is it isn’t out in the UK until February, making the next few a months a long and painful wait.
Directors: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Stars: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Susan Sarandon
Runtime: 172 min
Country: Germany, USA, Hong Kong, Singapore