Everybody loves a trier--and Cloud Atlas, Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski’s genre-hopping epic of interlinking stories, is a deserving sci-fi contender that sets its originality and complexity against the grain of risk-averse Hollywood. The writers have heroically adapted David Mitchel’s bestselling 2004 novel, condensing its 500 pages into three brisk hours and ditching its famous chronology, in which successive time periods are arranged concentrically like Russian dolls. Instead, Cloud Atlas slides back and forth over its half-dozen stories--Victorian travelogue, interwar romance, 70s corporate thriller, bedroom farce, dystopian sci-fi and lyrical post-apocalypse--interlocking them like an enormous cross-word puzzle. As with the Wachowski’s Matrix trilogy, the overall plot of Cloud Atlas is an earnest epic of metaphysical freedom-fighting, and a daisy-chain of clues place the film’s themes of slavery (whether personal, political or corporate) and abolitionism as an eternal cycle in human history. Rejected by Hollywood in early production, Cloud Atlas was rescued by $100m of independent money and the good faith of its up-for-it cast--who bust a gut to inhabit multiple roles, including successive reincarnations of the same set of characters. Artistically, it just about breaks even as a sci-fi blockbuster: staring its critics down and flaunting its eccentric touches. These includes some out-there moments of race and gender promiscuity: Hugh Grant switches between a playboy pensioner, a Korean restaurateur and a grunting cannibal warlord; Hugo Weaving plays the silver-tongued demon Ol’ Georgie whilst holding down a side-role as Jim Broadbent’s bosomy matron; and Halle Berry is both a feisty Blacksploitation-era journalist and a deracinated English rose. Leading the cast is Tom Hanks, in the most generous performance of his career--diving in and out of wigs, accents, makeup and false teeth, exchanging dramatic leads for comic bit-parts and revolutionary heroics for panto villainy. A box office underachiever, Cloud Atlas is geared towards multiple viewings, and offers a rare glimpse of a major literary adaptation battling against production odds, and a cast and crew uncynically giving their all. --Leo Batchelor --This text refers to the DVD edition.
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