On the all-time list of unadaptable novels, David Mitchell’s 2004 sprawling, centuries-spanning opus, Cloud Atlas, is a recent but nonetheless daunting addition.
Nevertheless, with a welcome dash of ambition and no small amount of gung-ho go-getteritis, Wachowski siblings Andy and Lana teamed up with Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer to take stab at this dauntingly labyrinthine task. And while they successfully distil the essence of the novel to its surprisingly accessible themes – Atlas Shrugged this ain’t – without altering the source material beyond all recognition, there is still the sense that more could have been achieved.
Indeed, the at times stubborn loyalty to its forebear is sometimes its downfall.
Although it artfully splits the solid narratives of the book into bite-sized chunks that allow the central storyline to flow in a far more fluid manner, its decision to cast the same actors in multiple roles across timelines often unintentionally leads to pantomime-style farce.
While it’s undeniably chucklesome to watch certain thesps break free from well-worn stereotypes that have clung on for their entire careers (Tom Hanks’ foul-mouthed and ultimately murderous trash-lit author and Hugh Grant’s post-apocalyptic era cannibal are highlights), the level of prosthetics on show doesn’t always lend sufficient credibility at times when it is sorely needed.
Moreover, the individual stories that compose the film are of variable quality and tonally disparate, and while the overlying theme of interconnectivity throughout time that pins together the source material is mercifully retained and paid sufficient lip service to, coupled with some truly beautiful cinematic landscapes, when all is said and done it’s hard to deny that the film’s – like the book – central message is rather thin.
Everyone is connected? Make the most of your life?
If it’s trying to be deep, it’s barely poking its head below water.
Nevertheless, the faults of this film are shared with the book, and with a subject matter this challenging there is plenty of scope for failure. That this film doesn’t add to the list of gripes a good thing, and arguably an achievement on its own standing. The fact that they’ve managed to craft a film that is both serviceable and, most importantly watchable at the very least, is another.
Just don’t expect to experience enlightenment.