When it’s all said and done, Tom Hanks will go down as one of the great actors ever. After all, he’s played some of the most iconic roles Hollywood has ever had to offer. But as with any actor, there are movies that can tend to be lost to history, mostly forgotten even though, at the time they did have folks talking. One of those Tom Hanks movies just hit Netflix in the United States and is definitely worth revisiting. Though a disappointment at the time, it could have been because expectations were so high. It’s time to go check out Cloud Atlas.
Cloud Atlas is a very different kind of movie, told in six parts across completely different timelines. The cast is the same in each different timeline, though the roles completely change for each new story. In all, the story spans more than 450 years with the timelines jumping within one generation and others much more. Tom Hanks and the rest of the cast are consistent throughout, changing their part for each new story, playing completely different characters. But each piece is connected with those before, often taking influence from events or actions that had already taken place. It’s a high-level concept that was ambitious in its approach.
The film starts in the mid-19th century and deals with slavery in the United States. In some ways, this is a theme throughout with characters jumping roles between slave and master (symbolically at times) through the other future stories. Tom Hanks plays the antagonist in this first part, though that is set to change as the movie rolls along. Starting from this first piece, Cloud Atlas then movies through three more stories in the 20th and early 21st century before going fully futuristic and then post-apocalyptic for the final two. Hanks is in each with his characters shifting and “growing” as the movie goes on.
Joining Tom Hanks in Cloud Atlas are a number of other notables who also (mostly) take part in each new story. The other *stars* who appear in all six timelines are Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, and Jim Sturgess. Each sees their characters shift though they don’t always have the same gravity in each part. Such is the nature of how this movie is told. There are meant to be ideas around reincarnation and interconnectivity within the characters in each new timeline. And because of the timeline shifts, the look for each actor or actress changes dramatically throughout.
Released in 2012, Cloud Atlas was a highly-anticipated movie at the time. It’s based on the novel of the same name by David Mitchell. And it wasn’t just the casting of Tom Hanks in one of the leads that had folks pumped. The movie was also adapted and directed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski who were only a few years removed from completing the Matrix trilogy. With a massive budget, and huge names attached there was more than enough reason to get excited about the flick. It had a huge, sweeping scope that appeared to cross a number of different thematic and stylistic lines.
But Cloud Atlas ended up becoming a major disappointment at the time, bordering on a box office bomb. The budget was a massive amount, butting up against $150 million dollars. Makes sense right? Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Wachowskis, and a story that spans time isn’t going to come cheap. But it only ended up earning around $130 million in ticket sales. For a major studio offering, this was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. From a critical perspective, the reception was mixed at the time. On Rotten Tomatoes it’s sitting at 66% with reviews almost completely polarizing. This is to say, folks seemed to either think it was a brilliant adaptation of the book, a bold and different movie. Or they thought it completely sucked. There was very little in between in the tone of the reviews.
In all, now years removed from the hype around Cloud Atlas, I think it’s worth revisiting Tom Hanks and company in this movie. With some of the expectations stripped away, it is a bit easier to see this flick in a new light. And from that standpoint, it definitely holds up. Is it different? Sure, but that was always kind of the point. Go check out Cloud Atlas on Netflix now.