“A hugely ambitious project, and the three directors should be commended for tackling it...”
David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas had pretty much been written off as an unadaptable novel, given the intricacies and immensity of the story at hand. Nonetheless, a trio of directors – Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski, have attempted to bring this bestselling novel to the big screen, yet sadly their venture has proven the sceptics right, as where Ang Lee achieved great success with the equally unwieldy Life of Pi, sadly Cloud Atlas has failed.
We follow six separate stories, all set at different points and alternative places – ranging from a 19th century voyage across the Pacific, to early 20th century Britain, as well as 1970's America, the present day, a futuristic Japan, all the way to a post-apocalyptic Hawaii, far into the future. Featuring actors such as Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, and James D'Arcy to name but a few, all taking on several roles across the ages, as we study mankind and how the actions of those in the past can shape the future, as we get to the bottom of what brings us all together and connects us as a race of people.
One of the issues with Cloud Atlas is that for the title to have the desired effect on the audience, we require all six of the alternating narratives to work in unison to tell the wider tale, yet it's really only two of them which have the ability to intrigue you, and keep you compelled. The two that work best are that of the romantic storyline between Robert Frobisher (Whishaw) and Rufus Sixsmith (D'Arcy), and the episode incorporating book publisher Timothy Cavendish (Broadbent), who unwillingly ends up at a retirement home. The reason these two work better than the others, is because they aren't overly ambitious and instead are straightforward, simply – and sincerely – picking up on basic human emotions. The other passages suffer from prosthetics overkill, distracting us from the story at hand.
Much credit must go by way of the editing team however, as despite various stories simply not working, the way they blend into one another is seamless, feeling entirely natural at all times – quite a feat given the audience are being asked to follow six tales at the very same time. Also you can't fault the acting within this title, as there isn't a weak link amongst them, as each and every actor manages to portray a handful of characters differently, capturing the essence of each individual role – which makes it easier for the audience, as we can instantly tell which story we are re-entering as the scenes change.
The biggest issue, however, and where Cloud Atlas falls flat, is within the lack of emotional investment within the stories and individual characters. Getting emotionally involved with a film is not always a necessity, yet given the filmmakers are striving for this in what is such a spiritual, poignant tale, we rely on feeling such emotions to fully comprehend the story. There is a very clear overriding message in this – that of mankind all being connected via the same human traits, sharing the same souls, and the inherent need to be loved, regardless of the time or place - but, sadly Cloud Atlas just hasn't got the conviction, which ultimately deems the entire thing rather unnecessary. We're supposed to be re-examining life as a whole, as we search for a deeper meaning into our own existence – yet although you can see it, you just don't believe it. Due to using the same actors in various roles, instead we sub-consciously unite the stories together through physical appearance, rather than what is inside us all. It's the soul that carries us through the ages, not Halle Berry.
Cloud Atlas is certainly a hugely ambitious project, and the three directors should be commended for tackling it and for creating a wildly unique film. Nonetheless, it's clearly just not an easy book to adapt, and perhaps it may have been better to have just left it as it is.