Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess and Doona Bae. Written by David Mitchell and Lana Wachowski. Directed by Tom Tykwer and Andy Wachowski. Produced by Stefan Arnd, Alex Boden, David Brown, Jose Luis Escolar, Grant Hill, Philip Lee, Marcus Loges, Roberto Malerba, Alexander Rodnyansky, Uwe Schott and Tom Tykwer.
If you're supersitious, you'll love how the latest venture by the Wachowski brothers touches on themes of spirituality and karma. Not unlike The Matrix, this film crafts the vivid and cold world of the distant future, where human lives are only worth as much as the service they provide. However, in addition to the future, Cloud Atlas reinvents the past, following stories which are set as far back as the 1930s. Based on the best-selling novel by Davd Mitchell, this film explores how the actions of our individual lives impact one another through the past, present and future – a theme repeatedly pounded into our brains from the beginning of the film to the end.
The film weaves together six different stories, covering every genre from romance to mystery and action to sci-fi, where each character's soul is transferred from the hero to the villain to a bystander in the next story, causing a ripple effect from a random act of kindness centuries ago to start a revolution in the distant future. These souls within the characters are represented in a couple different ways throughout the film – a distinctly mishapen birth mark on the skin of the character and the use of the same actor to play these multiple roles. For instance, Halle Berry appears in the movie as characters with the same soul, which includes Jocasta Ayrs, the wife of a successful composer in the '30s and Meronym, a high member of a post-apocalyptic tribe. Admittedly, this device is novel and one of the film's many draws – Berry, Weaving, Hanks and Grant all play four or more parts – but it isn't necessarily the most effective. Not only is it extremely distracting and silly watching these actors show up in atypical roles, it almost defeats the entire purpose of acting, which is to convince the audience that these aren't actors but the actual characters they're portraying. The bad accents and ridiculous make-up don't just make us wish these roles were cast accordingly, they make us feel like the movie is no longer about the art but instead the star power behind this project.
The concept of weaving storylines is what makes Cloud Atlas appealing and thought-provoking – there's so much material that you're bound to like at least some of it. Its weakness lies in the amount of time spent on each of the six stories it attempts to develop – each time we start to learn about a character or their story, the focus is shifted to another. After three hours, the audience remains indifferent to the characters and what happens to them, which makes the movie feel like a reiteration of a hollow concept.
As expected, the film's strength lies in its gorgeous camera work and special effects. The action sequences feature great choreography and everything from the vast ocean to post-apocalyptic America is made with masterful clarity and creative detail. And while many of the themes presented in Cloud Atlas come off as pretentious and lofty, its overall message is relevant and thought-provoking. —Rebecca HIllary