When I saw the trailer for Cloud Atlas I knew it was something I had to see. When it finally arrived here it came with the baggage of having been a commercial flop in the States and dividing critics between those who proclaimed it one of the best of the year, and one of the worst. I can sadly appreciate why it flopped as its a hugely ambitious concept, taking David Mitchell’s complex interweaving novel structure of multiple stories across different timezones (stretching from the 19th century to the far, far future) and having different actors portray people of different genders, race, nationality etc, all packed in to a dizzying 3 hours. On the surface it probably feels a lot more complex than it actually is, its really much more straightforward.
It’s brilliant. As a friend who saw it with me said “I enjoyed every minute of that.” It never once felt slow or long, I was never once bored, the pacing expertly timed to introduce the characters and concepts before gradually pulling all the threads together, making the links between all the disparate elements clear. Parts of it reminded me of the finale of Inception as the different story lines converge (although, it must be said, Inception probably pulled off the big ‘convergent’ scene better, but it had less to do). The ensemble cast are excellent (although, as good as Tom Hanks is, his brief turn as an Irishman produced guffaws from the Dublin audience…his accent is up there with the all time great bad Oirish brogues from Hollywood), and its a technical tour-de-force (how it didn’t get Oscar nods for editing, effects or make-up is beyond me).
And running through it all is a central philosophy of interdependence and interconnectedness that is very dear to my heart. In many ways it’s a manifesto for a radical Buddhist-socialist-Wattsian revolution. I’m on for that.
I’ve described Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” as a glorious mess. “Cloud Atlas” is in the same spirit of adventurous, risk-taking, grand cinema. It is prone to over sentimentality, but I don’t think a film tackling these kind of themes in this way can’t be. And I guess in todays cynicism-as-default mode, anything like this can be dismissed as ‘sentimental’. But it works. It’s a glorious success.