In the fickle world of filmmaking with so many reboots, remakes and films based on theme park rides, it's amazing that something as pure as Cloud Atlas can make it off the lot of mainstream studio. Yes there are always films pushing the boundaries and creating art outside of mainstream cinema, but Cloud Atlas is something bold on the world's biggest filmmaking stage and this reviewer has never seen anything like it before - a genuine one of a kind film.
Set in the past, present and future, the lives and actions of a group of individuals ripple across the universe to tell a story of love, life and revolution.
Patience is your best friend throughout Cloud Atlas as directors, Andy and Lana Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer, build an elaborate narrative that is constantly moving forward across multiple timelines and characters. At times it feels like several different films crashing in over the top of each other and the first reaction is a little frustration. That frustration will slowly melt away into wonder as actions have immediate consequences on characters centuries away from each other. Cloud Atlas is a film about the journey of the human soul and the film has an essence of karma built into its fabric. We are all connected and it's all about the little deeds and the battle between good and evil for reign over the soul. Characters rise and fall throughout time as a result of their actions and it's intriguing to watch the intricate pieces of the puzzle come together. There is no instant gratification and the Wachowski's and Tykwer give you all the tools to decipher and interpret the film anyway you choose – prepare not to be spoon fed. The one thing that's undeniable is the theme of hope and love as a powerful force bigger than the bounds of the human form. Apologies for the spiritual mumbo jumbo but the metaphysical ideas of Cloud Atlas are engaging and are sure to grow in the mind like a wild vine.
The world "ensemble" is thrown around with a lot of films but THIS is an ensemble in Cloud Atlas. Each actor gets their opportunity to play a variety of different characters with most swapping sex, race as well as social status. Actors are main characters in one timeline while merely appear for only a cameo in another. The versatility of Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Wishaw, Keith David, James D'Arcy, Xun Zhou, David Gyasi, Susan Surandon and Hugh Grant is amazing. The way each actor leaps from character to character is a great equaliser of the actors themselves who are all sharing a lifetime worth roles in a similar way to Denis Lavant's in Holy Motors. The casting and transformation of the actors further cements the concept of interconnectivity built into the story.
The stunning visual effects and attention to detail with costuming and set design help further flesh out each specific time periods. There are totems, outfits and music that break the bounds of time in the same way the characters do. From the deck of a sailing ship in the 1800s to the sprawling neon future of Korea in the year 2144, it's a beautiful world to be immersed in and there are universe of stories to discover.
Cloud Atlas is film that harps on that feeling of déjà vu or if you've ever found a soul mate or felt like you've experienced something in a past life. It attempts to trace the path of the soul across the universe and the results are mind boggling upon reflection. The film could simply be about the popularity of Hello Kitty backpacks and maybe this review is the sign of a reviewer going mad getting trapped reading between the lines. Whatever you take away from Cloud Atlas, it's reassuring that courageous filmmakers can still use cinema to provoke so much wonderment and reflection.
[rating=4] and a half
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies