They said that it couldn’t be filmed. They said that David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas – considered by many a literary masterpiece – with its globe spanning, time-tripping plot could not be adapted for the big screen due to the complexity that fell between the pages.
But that didn’t seem to scare of a trio of directors – Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) – from signing on in an attempt to bring the literary adventure to the big screen.
Accepting roles in the visionary adaptation were A-Listers Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant, Jim Sturgess and Keith David. And with a screenplay adapted by Tykwer and the two Wachowski’s, Cloud Atlas rolled in front of the cameras late last year and now has it’s World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Multiple characters, eras and storylines have notary Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess – Above the Universe) keeping a journal on his voyage across the Pacific Ocean in the 19th Century; A musician in 1931 Belgium who writes of his experiences in a letter to his love; A journalist (Halle Berry) who investigates a murder that has taken place at a nuclear plant circa 1975; A publisher in modern day England and his pursuit by gangsters; A clone is interviewed on the eve of her execution in futuristic Korea; and a tribesman (Hanks) in post-apocalyptic Hawaii is visited by a member of a dead civilization. The stories are intertwined and jump rapidly between each arch sometimes in as little as just a few seconds between swaps.
All of the above storylines are weaved together in a 163-minute adventure drama that desperately tries to become the most audacious and epic film of the 2012 theatrical release year.
And although we can agree that the term ‘epic’ is aptly applied, Cloud Atlas is also a labyrinth mess of a film that will alienate and confuse audiences more than having them engrossed in story development.
Tom Hanks is clearly the actor of focus embodying over 11 different characters through the different time zones and stories. With the exception of one storyline that has Hanks as a British thug who commits a violent act towards a critic, Hanks’ ability and presence keeps the film afloat while the ship takes water. All other actors play multiple roles all competently, even Hugo Weaving who in one story plays a Nurse Ratchet type female caregiver.
All other stories with the exception of one where Jim Broadbent plays an aging composer are interesting enough even if they don’t grab audiences in a way that would have one root for one specific character’s journey.
The story arc that is rooted in the future where a clone falls in love with a human adds some punch and high tech effects which help pass the far too stretched 160+ minute running time.
There are also some scenes of incredible violence in Cloud Atlas. Throats get cut, people get thrown off buildings and Korean clone women get strung up like meat cattle. The violence is graphic but it is also awkward in a movie that doesn’t seem to be able to find its true voice.
Cloud Atlas is therefore like a glass of cold, flat Coca-Cola. It does satisfy an immediate desire for taste and sugar, but it’s ultimately unsatisfying and leaves you wishing you had ordered something else.
We will also predict that Cloud Atlas will not only be shut out of any Oscar or awards conversations, but the estimated $100 million will be very tough to recoup even with all that star power headlining the poster.