Hollywood films are rarely as ambitious as “Cloud Atlas,” the collaboration between “Matrix” directors Lana and Larry Wachowski and “Run Lola Run” helmer Tom Tykwer. When you’re lucky enough to have Tom Hanks as the lead, however, a movie can be as daring as it wants to be.
The filmmakers, jamming almost every single genre imaginable into one massive film, seem to be trying to say everything possible about life into one movie. It’s no small feat to accomplish, yet the Wachowskis and Tykwer pulled it off, creating the best film any of the trio have made since the ’90s ended.
Based on the 2004 novel by David Mitchell, “Cloud Atlas” juggles six stories, each set in a different time period, from the nineteenth century, 1970s San Francisco, present day London, a “Blade Runner” looking New Seoul in the 22nd century, to a post-apocalyptic world where language itself has evolved. All of these segments involve underdogs struggling against a higher power, each connected by actions that ripple across time. “Atlas” supposes that a killer in one life can become a hero in another, depending on the choices they make. Hanks and the other stars, including Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Sturgess, and Hugo Weaving play characters of different nationalities, races, and in some cases gender. Weaving in particular undergoes the most dramatic of changes, playing a Nurse Ratchett-like overseer of a nursing home and a green-faced Mad Hatter-type entity who acts as the devil on Hanks’ shoulder in the post-apocalyptic segment.
At almost three hours, “Cloud Atlas” requires a little patience, at least at first. The film throws you into the fray, and the result can be a little disorienting at first. “Atlas” spends a lot of time giving the audience a chance to gather their bearings, but stick with it and you won’t be sorry. Some high-minded films can veer off and become pretentious like “Tree of Life,” but that’s not the case with “Atlas.” Yes, the film is bold, high-minded and has some very lofty goals it wants to achieve, but things remain just mainstream enough to keep from turning off most of the audience. The tendency to go mainstream makes “Atlas” easier to digest, but it also feels like the Wachowskis and Tykwer chose to be safe instead of veering too far into art house territory.
It’s easier to figure out everything going on and how each segment connects with the others as the segments unfold. But it isn’t until the very end that everything truly becomes cohesive, the result of which is a swirling mass of ideas about life, love and consequences.
Everything is connected in “Cloud Atlas,” and while the times may change, the things that make people good or evil doesn’t. It may take some people a few lifetimes to get it right, but in the end, everyone has a chance at redemption.