Cloud Atlas (2012)
Look, I admit it – I’m a sucker for cinematic experiments in metafiction and form. Such movies tend to attract critics’ comments like, “All this self-referentiality, not-too-subtle thematic interlinking, and chronological jumbling are mere gimmicks; once you’ve solved the superficial puzzle-box, there’s little of substance to them. They’re not really as profound or interesting as they think they are – they exist only as exercises for writers and directors to smugly say, ‘Look how clever I am!'”
But for me, that clever-clever self-referentiality, not-too-subtle thematic interlinking, chronological jumbling, and puzzle-solving is exactly what wins me over. (Usually.) And it certainly worked in the case of Cloud Atlas!
I have not read David “Not The One From Peep Show” Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas, but before going to see the film, The Fountain was the reference point I had in mind. And sure enough, of the above examples, The Fountain is the film that it most resembles, in its cross-cutting between vastly different time periods in order to emphasise symbolic links between events and characters.
I enjoyed the film very much. The 2144 segment was always going to have the most immediate appeal for someone primarily interested in this film because of the Wachowskis’ involvement, and it’s a relief to see that they have lost none of their flair for action direction. (If, indeed, it was the siblings and not Tykwer who directed that segment’s action scenes: the end credits suggest that they did, but interview comments1 suggest that the credits give a misleading impression of how distinctly the film’s directorial responsibilities were divided.) However, all the stories had something to recommend them (the humour of the 2012 segment; the conspiracy of the ’70s thriller; the interaction between Ben Whishaw and Jim Broadbent’s characters in the 1930s), so that I was rarely disappointed when the film interrupted a story I was enjoying to switch to another one. The abruptness of the transitions between the different stories’ tones and genres was also something that appealed to me rather than a disorientating irritation. Overall I found it a very well-paced movie, flowing along about as well as any non-linear three hour movie ever could. (Although I could have done with a few less solemn, pseudo-profound statements about interconnectedness in the voiceovers.)
Many people have complained of being distracted by the make-up, and Tom Hanks’ attempts at certain accents – it’s true that I was distracted by those things too, but with only a couple of exceptions, keeping an eye out for the different roles each actor took on was an enjoyable distraction.
Hugo Weaving has said in interviews that roles in mainstream blockbusters no longer really appeal to him as an actor. If that means he won’t be doing any more of them, then at least we have Cloud Atlas to represent the ultimate culmination of all his villain-portraying! (Although: yeah, he does resemble the Hitcher from The Mighty Boosh at one point…)
[4 out of 5]
1 See Lana Wachowski’s comment in this AV Club interview:
We keep trying to explain to people that, first of all, the credit you see in the movie was this kooky thing invented by the Director’s Guild, because they couldn’t understand how three people could direct a movie together. And they have this convention that the only way directors can be multiply credited on a film is if it’s an anthology, so they invented this bizarre credit to allow their rules to make sense for our film.