Review of Cloud Atlas

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A sci-fi mystery drama based on the 2004 novel of the same name by David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas is an exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution. Starring as part of an ensemble cast are actors Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon & Jim Broadbent.
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After watching both Lana (formerly Larry before a sex change) and Andy Wachowski’s (along with an assist from “Run Lola Run” director Tom Twyker) almost experimental adaptation of David Mitchel’s novel, I feel that the next widely-considered-unfilmable novel to be turned into a film will be too soon. The three filmmakers had a hell of a time with funding and getting this movie made, a story that is unfortunately far more interesting than the movie itself. “Cloud Atlas” is a story that literally spans ages and sitting in the theater, it feels like it too. It’s about as inaccessible, cold, and dull a film as I can remember seeing all year. There will undoubtedly be people who call it daring but excruciating is a more apt word.

Here the actors get to wear all sorts of make-up and play multiple roles throughout history, which plays out over the course of six stories intercut with each other. Starting with the past (1850), a sea-faring tale regarding an ailing abolitionist (Jim Sturges) being slowly poisoned by an evil doctor (Tom Hanks) while befriending a stowaway escaped slave (David Gyasi). In 1930’s Cambridge, a homosexual musical transcriber (Ben Whishaw) is called to the home of a famous composer (Jim Broadbent) to help him create. In the 70’s, a reporter (Halle Berry) is thrown into an investigation regarding an oil company and its founder (Hugh Grant). In London 2012, a book publisher (Broadbent) is tricked into admitting himself into a rest home. In 2044 Korea, an imprisoned server (Doona Bae) yearns for freedom and becomes something of a martyr. And then we have post-apocalyptic Hawaii, where a valley-native named Zachary (Hanks) becomes wary when a space woman (Berry) pays his tribe a visit. In almost all these stories, Hugo “Agent Smith” Weaving shows up as an antagonist, even playing a Nurse Ratched type figure in the nursing home tale.

Any one of these stories have promise but not in the jumbled way that they’re brought together here. None of them are given time to be effective on an emotional level or to matter, while the constant intercutting between them is a dizzying effect made all the worse by Twyker (directintg the 1930’s, 70’s, and 2012 sequences) and The Wachowski’s (directing the 1850 and two futuristic sequences) insistence on hammering home everything with philosophical narration about life trajectory and the effect those lives have on other lives and the idea of reincarnation. It’s a lot to take in, but mostly it’s just dense without much of a reward other than to say every human is connected. Did we need to endure the nearly 3 hour running time to learn this?

The make-up effects alternate between being impressive and having no shot of working even from the beginning (Halle Berry I assume is made to look white and Jewish in one scene, Hugh Grant a very old man in another.) More so it’s distracting to have these actors play roles in all these stories because you feel like they will become a bigger part of each story but sometimes they are there for an instant and then confusingly done away with. Don’t even get me started on having each actor represent one soul (the soul of Hank’s doctor from the first story is meant to have transformed into reluctant-hero Zachary in the last story); this is something that almost requires you read the book first to fully comprehend. And I don’t know why they decided not to use subtitles for this but anything having to do with the Valley People and their new (olden?) language is pretty much incomprehensible, while the special effects and video-game aesthetic of the Korea segment basically yells out for its own better, more fleshed out movie. As far as “Cloud Atlas” goes though, Twyker and The Wachowski’s seem to think they’re doing something deep here but the whole thing feels surprisingly slight and unbearably overlong.