The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer go hard. They also treat the audience like intelligent adults, which didn’t get them much money back but that happens. Cloud Atlas is remarkable in that they got it made at all and with this cast. Hugh Grant as a face painted murderous cannibal? Hugo Weaving as Nurse Rachet? That alone is worth the price of admission.
Cloud Atlas isn’t afraid to hit the audience in the head with it’s messages and that is fine, just fine. The filmmakers also wanted to do everything in this movie and lord do they. Probably the only movie ever made with a daring escape from an old folks home cross cut with a high speed aerial race through holographic roadways of a futuristic Asia. It’s like no one ever said no to any idea but most of the ideas were good anyway so it worked out. When I was in college I used to find movies all the time from Japan, Korea and France that would push the envelope of content and form and I would lament that American filmmakers never came close to that level of audacity and creativity. Based on the grosses of films like Cloud Atlas and Scott Pilgrim vs The World, American audiences don’t want daring. It is still nice to see someone try every couple years. Darren Aronofsky went buck wild with The Fountain, which flopped, but was able to recover and become an Oscar guy while still going hard(Black Swan is hot fire)(y’know what The Fountain is hot fire too) so I can only hope that the Wachowskis don’t lose their nerve and make something boring. I have gone on record as not enjoying Speed Racer but they clearly weren’t taking notes from anybody on that one either.
But Cloud Atlas is a winner because it has ideas and characters and momentum. All six of the intertwined stories are interesting and compelling in different ways while still contributing to the thematic whole of the film. And the really crazy thing is that everyone is relatable and sketched out, whether they’re a worker clone, a gay prostitute/composer, or a post apocalyptic tribesman. All human experience is relatable, and the basic human need for freedom and the search for ideas is always a great framework for a story. Or six stories at that.
Y’know who is great in this movie? Halle Berry. No shit. I know she has an Oscar but man have I sat through some Halle Berry shit shows in my time. Some how, Big T and The Ws managed to pull some fine work from Ms. Berry, be it as an intrepid reporter or as a white Jewish woman. Tom Hanks is kinda hit and miss, but he is very, very good as Zachry, the post apocalyptic tribe guy who is constantly haunted by a top hatted Hugo Weaving hallucination. Classic Hanks. Classic Weaving.
The makeup in Cloud Atlas is frankly bananas. The movies have not yet figured out old age makeup so that means that we have to endure a couple scenes where Hugh Grant is playing a melted candle. Hugo Weaving goes through the most transformations, playing a large breasted female nurse, an asian guy, a sideburned assassin, the aforementioned top hatted, green skinned ghoul, and a rotted nose slave owner. The yellow face that Weaving wears along with several other non-asian actors is inevitably distracting and yeah, kinda racist and ignorant. I think the Wachowskis and Tykwer were trying to be post racial and work out their ideas about universal people and that we are all one in a continuous loop of life but ehhh, that shit is still kinda racist. I mean, Tom Hanks didn’t play a black guy at any point, yknowwhatImean?
But better we reach for the stars then never try at all, right? Right. Cloud Atlas is literally about trying when it seems like a bad idea/wrong idea/worst idea and just living(or dying) with the consequences.