Breathtaking action, profound emotion, dark sense of fun and sheer deranged brilliance
A time-trotting, globe-encircling, multi-strand plot; wigs, false noses and flamboyant accents; grandiose theories about the fate-shifting power of romantic love … Cloud Atlas has an unavoidable hint of the Mad Folly about it. One recalls Thomas Vinterberg’s It’s All About Love (cloned ice skaters, airborne Ugandans, the end of the world) and Darren Aronovsky’s The Fountain (astronauts, Conquistadors, immortality trees). One is also, of course, in the hands of three directors who since astonishing early careers have been a touch prone to spectacular mishaps themselves. Plenty to be suspicious about, then.
But Cloud Atlas takes such reservations, drowns them in romanticism, dizzies them with spectacle and generally befuddles them out of existence with its sheer deranged brilliance. It’s moving, surprising, gently but insistently political, and almost entirely persuasive despite its narrative pyrotechnics. It also boasts the sort of pace and intensity that reminds us that its directors, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski, between them, have made some of the most surefooted genre films of all time: Bound, The Matrix, Run Lola Run.
Fans of David Mitchell’s source novel might balk at the fact that the film elides or combines some events and characters; but this renders a story that plods a little on the page a good deal nimbler and punchier. The casting of the same actors as multiple characters, meanwhile, is a risky innovation, demanding considerable suspension of disbelief; but it cleverly realises Mitchell’s notion of transmigrated souls. (What exactly their interconnectedness means is still a touch obscure, but so it was in the book.)
One element disappoints: Jim Broadbent has been inexplicably directed for maximum sitcommy broadness, and proves a poor fit. Others -- Ben Whishaw, Doona Bae, Tom Hanks -- are riveting whenever they show up. Some will balk at its excesses, but breathtaking action, profound emotion and a dark sense of fun make this the most ambitious, original movie event in years.
General release from Fri 22 Feb.