I went into Cloud Atlas, co-directed by Tom Tykwer and Lana and Andy Wachowski, not sure what to expect. On the one hand, Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run was one of the more intriguing films of the 1990's, and his oft-overlooked Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is a film that deserves much more recognition than it initially received. On the other hand, I never have gotten the allure of the Wachowski's Matrix series, and Tom Hanks is the kind of creature that just epitomizes middlebrow Hollywood. As for the novel itself, written by David Mitchell and often referred to as unfilmable, I must admit to having never read it, but the premise sounds intriguing, and the potential to create a most strange and unusual motion picture epic is indeed ingrained inside this so-called unfilmable work. Putting all this together, I had low expectations but high hopes going in. Coming out, I was forced to resign myself to the sad fact that my hopes had been dashed even if my expectations were indeed met. No, the film is not terrible by any means, but it is just as far from brilliant as it is from terrible. Even with its inherent great potential, Cloud Atlas ends up being that aforementioned very epitome of middlebrow Hollywood.
The film, as is the book, is six stories in one. Taking place through the ages, from the South Pacific of 1849 to Cambridge, England and Edinburgh, Scotland in 1936 to 1973 San Francisco to the modern day UK to Neo Seoul in the year 2144 to a post-apocalyptic Hawaii in a time called 106 winters after "The Fall" (identified as 2321), the filmmakers (Tykwer taking three stories and the Wachowski's taking the other three) shoot back and forth between these six tales with an unbridled ferocity that may leave many moviegoers clamoring for the lobby (I myself welcome the insanity of non-linear storytelling), and will only end up leaving those filmgoers with sturdier compositions (the back and forth settles down into a respectable non-linear sense about twenty minutes in) wanting the more that the unique premise had promised them. To befuddle the non sturdy moviegoers even more, the main cast, which includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, James D'Arcy, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Wishaw, Keith David, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon and Hugo Weaving, all play multiple parts, sometimes of different genders and/or races. The latter becoming a stick in the craw of many advocate groups, which is understandable because Hugo Weaving as a Korean man is even creepier than Hugo Weaving as an enormous Nurse Ratched character. None of this though really gives or takes much to or from the film (and it should give a lot to it), as no matter how mind-blowing the three directors want to be - and I am sure they want to be greatly so - the end result is inevitably disappointment in what could have been and what should have been.