It would be impossible for any cinema goer to predict their reaction to Cloud Atlas prior to their own personal viewing of it- the German born independent film, adapted from David Mitchell's 2004 novel by the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix trilogy) and Tom Tykwer has left critics and audiences split down the middle, quite unlike any film before. The reasons for this polarizing reaction are understandable, with some claiming it one of the most ambitious and engaging movies of recent times while others were left frustrated, labelling it to be a bloated, over-indulgent affair with no fixed direction.
Usually I'd begin with a quick summary of the given films storyline but it's not quite that simple here, due mainly to the fact that Cloud Atlas is host to a total of six different plots in six different timezones. Chronologically these settings are the South Pacific Ocean 1849, Cambridge/Edinburgh 1936, San Francisco 1973, London 2012, Neo Seoul 2144, and ''106 Winters After The Fall'' on The Big Island. Each of the settings are connected to each other through their primary characters, potrayed by an impressive cast in the shape of Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon and James D'Arcy, each of whom play a variety of roles spread throughout the six interweaving worlds.
If this all sounds a little confusing, well, it is. The beginning of the film is a testing time for the audience, who will either find themselves intriuged by the growing spiderweb of linked tales or turned off by the lack of a focused plot and straightforward development, but any self respecting cinema fan will be richly rewarded for paying close attention as Cloud Atlas blossoms into a magnificent, extravagant collection of stories that would each merit their own individual production as a singlular film. Within the space of its 171 minute running time, Cloud Atlas delves into an array of different genres in spectacular fashion, ranging from epic fantasy adventure to lighthearted British comedy, and 70's political thriller action to a futuristic science fiction drama.
Even the films detractors have agreed unanimously on certain elements of the film such as cinematography, special effects, lead performances and visually striking settings, all of which combine to create the numerous beautiful settings, from the stunning futuristic world of 2144 Korea to the stylish period piece in 1936 Britain. A brilliant comedic turn by veteran Jim Broadbent as an old-folk home escapee, Bae Doona's skillful transition from lowly waitress to revolutionary leader and Halle Berrys impressive potrayal of a paranoid journalist caught up in a political conspiracy are among the finest acting moments of the film, but the standout performance is undoubtedly Tom Hanks who effortlessly transforms himself into a range of personalities good and evil throughout, aided by the superb costume design and make-up work that is a prominent feature.
As the numerous stories begin to weave into each other, Cloud Atlas absorbs the viewer inside its magical universe in an encompassing, all consuming manner that will swallows its audience whole. The pure shock and awe that Cloud Atlas shot through me is one unrivalled in modern cinema. The last time I recall feeling such emotion following my viewing of a movie was Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York, another mind bending experience that took some time to recover from due to its powerful, reality shattering impact. Cloud Atlas deserves the same credit as Kaufman's 2008 cult classic for being another pop-culture masterpiece with the ability to communicate a level of meaning that goes further and deeper than most modern filmmakers could ever hope to compete with.
To put it as simply as possible, the reason we watch films is to be entertained, and Cloud Atlas is entertainment in its purest, most extraordinary and effective form. A truly special experience that must be seen to be believed.