Riding on Cloud Nine

Cloud Atlas – Tom Tykwer, Andy and Lana Wachowski, 2013

Anyone who’s seen the trailer for Cloud Atlas knows that that this is an ambitious film. It attempts to weave many different plot lines and genres into a cohesive film with a relatively small cast of lead actors, and it condenses David Mitchell’s book of the same name into 172 minutes. Amazingly, it works.  Tom Twyker’s and Lana and Andy Wachowski’s film is lyrical, visually mesmerising and brilliantly acted. It succeeds in translating a book that many readers may view as unfilmable while preserving the essence of its story.

The success of the film rests on its script, structure and casting decisions. The screenplay is excellent which is not surprising considering its heavy reliance on David Mitchell’s acclaimed source text. There are, however, significant differences between the book and the film, most notably in the film’s other standout features, its structure and its casting. Instead of viewing each narrative line one by one, Cloud Atlas switches between them almost with every scene change. This is made less jarring by the casting of its actors in multiple roles, their familiar faces easing the transition. The film is also wonderfully edited and scored to make each cut as smooth as possible.

One aspect that doesn’t help this process and the major failing of the film is its makeup. For a film that requires such an incredible suspension of disbelief in its audience it is regrettable that the casting of actors in multiple roles has resulted in some of the least believable makeup, particularly aging makeup, of the last five years. While some of the film’s makeup is wonderfully executed, like that of the purebreds of Neo Seoul, others such as the aging makeup of Fingersmith and Bae Doona in a red wig with green contacts create almost disturbing images.

The actors continue valiantly despite this to give uniformly brilliant performances deserving of their almost three hour showcase. Tom Hanks, Jim Broadbent and Bae Doona are particularly notable and characterise their many different characters very well. Occasionally the audience may find themselves wondering if Halle Berry is actually capable of acting different characters, but as she isn’t really called upon to do so, it never becomes an issue.

From the promotional material, one could be forgiven for thinking that Cloud Atlas is merely a mash-up of ever other blockbuster from last summer. The beauty of this film is that the stories seem to flow into each other effortlessly and that though there are 6 different genres, each with enough material to be their own feature, they come together in one cohesive film. Watching Cloud Atlas is a pleasure and this reviewer defies you to finish it without increasing your faith in humanity a hundred times more than any other multiple plot line film to come out of Hollywood.