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Tom Hanks-starring Cloud Atlas is Pretty Bananas (in a Good Way)

Posted on the 11 September 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost

Tom Hanks-starring Cloud Atlas is pretty bananas (in a good way) Tom Hanks, tub-thumping for Cloud Atlas. Photo credit: wvs

The background

David Mitchell’s critically acclaimed (and Booker Prize shortlisted) novel Cloud Atlas is a far reaching 500 page plus tome that weaves six stories across half a millennium of world history and a post-apocalyptic future. Now, the directorial triumvirate of the Wachowski siblings behind the Matrix Trilogy and the director of Run Lola Run, Tom Tykwer, have assembled a dazzling roster of stars to tackle this time and genre bending epic.

Mad but brave

The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival this weekend and was greeted with, according to The Hollywood Reporter, “a loud and lengthy standing ovation throughout the portion of its credits.” This must have come as a great relief to the film makers who raised much of the $100 million budget themselves; making Cloud Atlas the most expensive indie film ever made.

Empire noted just how unusual, and difficult to classify, the film is: “If you take Bright Star, The Parallax View, The Road and Amadeus, add a sprinkle of Blade Runner and a dash of One Foot In The Grave – bear with us here – give them a shake and pour the heady mix out onto the screen, you’d have something close to Cloud Atlas. Well, probably.” Indeed, The Evening Standard called it “off the wall” and expressed surprise that “such a bonkers project ever got made.”

The sheer audacity of the the project has induced admiration in the critics. The Telegraph’s Tim Robey noted that the film “is going to be far and away the most divisive film of 2012, but I don’t think it’s possible to fault it for shortage of chutzpah.” The Guardian’s Henry Barnes gave the film only a two-star rating, but conceded that, “it’s hard to wholly condemn the directors’ ambition – this is fast-paced and cleverly assembled.”

Tricky structure

The main task appointed to the directors of Cloud Atlas was how to tackle the book’s structure. The decision to interweave these tales; that had been set apart in Mitchell’s novel, has been met with a heady mix of admiration and criticism. Variety observed that “like juggling Ginsu blades, the tricky feat is part stunt, part skill, but undeniably entertaining… this one functions more like a symphony, laying out snatches of all six separate strands and gradually building toward grand movements in which these elements merge in different combinations.” The Independent cited a problem with “self-control” in the filmmakers’ approach but acknowledged that “it does make for fantastical movies – not even Terry Gilliam in his pomp was this grandiose.” Indeed, The Guardian said the film has “all the marks of a giant folly” but that the scope is bound to pay off: “The Tykwer/Wachowski collective offer everything here. Chances are there’s something in the hodgepodge for you.” The Hollywood Reporter, however, found it “headache-inducing to try to keep up with everything… this might be the first film perfectly tailor-made for the ADD generation.”

Casting without boundaries

The decision to cast their actors in multiple roles across the storylines has proved as divisive a decision as the film’s complex structural interweaving. The Independent observed that “part of the fun of this movie adaptation is trying to work out what star name is under the make-up” yet The Guardian found the guessing game provoked by the impressive prosthetics distracting: “an attempt to relate the message that all human beings are essentially the same… would work if the transformations didn’t look utterly alien.” However, Variety had a profound admiration for the film’s casting; that operated beyond gender or race: “the filmmakers put the lie to the notion that casting – an inherently discriminatory art – cannot be adapted to a more enlightened standard of performance over mere appearance, reminding us why the craft is rightfully called acting.”

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