The Wachowskis, with help from director Tom Tykwer, are back with a vengeance after their previous film Speed Racer underwhelmed at the box office. This time, they adapt from David Mitchell's award winning book Cloud Atlas, which tells of six inter-related tales spanning different eras from the 19th century to a post-apocalyptic future that brings humans back to the primitive times. It's almost three hours long, and a sprawling epic from start to finish, with a star-studded cast roped in to assist in the creation of the film's philosophy of how life interconnects through seemingly disparate events.
But perhaps the best way to enjoy this film is to treat them as separate short stories and nothing more. The original stories in the novel had the various segments lead in to one another through texts found by various characters in their individual story arcs, with a built in cliffhanger each, before delivering the respective payload in reverse chronological order they were introduced to the reader, and rounding it all off. It could work as a structure for the film as well, but that meant having to wait for some time for the later arcs to appear, and make this really look like a series of short stories being artificially stitched together.
So while the directors helmed different segments, the decision to sequence through all the six stories into one linear narrative was perhaps the right one, and through this fashion ring home the point of the inter-connectivity between the lives of characters in various story arcs more effectively, since scenes which were thematically similar at a point were edited to blend into one another rather seamlessly, rather than to get the audience to hold on to that thought for a later time application. Lines of dialogues also became memorable quotes across different story arcs, as do the character element of a comet-like birthmark that some of them would possess.
However, don't get too caught up in trying to link the stories together through gestures like the ones mentioned, or to even consider whether the characters the various actors play, are connected or have links when they appear in the different stories. Forget about how the stories serve to link up beyond what got produced on the surface, because it is stuff of required, repeated viewings. Instead, what you can choose to appreciate, is how the actors gamely took on various roles in the different stories, where in some they would anchor as the lead, and in the others they would lend support, or cameos even. Make up and special effects were top notch to disguise the actors to play different characters, and part of the fun is to do a double take when you discover just who is hiding behind heaving prosthetics, makeup, or even something as simple as a moustache. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry took on no less than six roles, while the rest chipped in with five or less multiple characters, allowing an exercise of their individual acting chops.
Technical brilliance made this film, with makeup as mentioned, costuming, art direction providing the canvas of the different eras, and special effects piled on as and when required, especially the futuristic segments, to make the worlds as separate and different from one another. Direction, despite being handled by different directors, was seemlessly integrated and consistent that you won't be able to tell them apart unless you sneak a peek at the production notes. The score also became a highlight, rendered by Reinhod Heil, Johnny Kilmek and Tom Tykwer, since it served as a centerpiece element for one of the story arcs.
It's pretty fun watching the actors in their various roles, and those who particularly stood out were Hanks as Zachry, the man who had to defer to Hugo Weaving's devilish character before suffering the pangs of karma, and Doona Bae who may seem to have walked through yet another Air Doll role as Sonmi-351. It was surprising to see Zhou Xun involved in this film too, as was Hugh Grant being the most unrecognizable of the lot. Cloud Atlas is a mammoth of a film, that will demand you rewatch it again, not only to continue in your spot-the-star moment, but to give connecting all the dots another go, after you've come to savour the stories individually at first. Recommended!
P.S. I'm not sure if the non-IMAX versions shown here has subtitles, but it certainly helped with the multitude of accents, especially those deliberate ones involving vocabulary and grammar for those post-apocalyptic scenes.