Cloud Atlas is a very unique movie going experience with some amazing visuals. Based on the 2004 novel of the same name by David Mitchell, it is a film the defies easy categorization. It is at once a sci-fi action flick, an adventure movie, a love story, a noir thriller, and a comedic romp. It is a film composed of six separate stories, and yet there is a connection between them across space and time. Adding to this theme of connection is the way the filmmakers used their cast. By casting the actors in multiple roles, the theme of connectivity is heightened, as well as showing interactions between stories from one character’s actions to the next. In one story a character writes a journal, in the next that same journal is being read by another character. Letters are read from one character’s story in another, and even one character’s escapades make for a film viewed by another in a different storyline. It seems like all this should be confusing, but as long as you pay attention, it all falls into place nicely. Fortunately the film is entertaining enough to hold your attention for its lengthy (172 minute) running time.
The movie’s six stories span over centuries, from an 1849 voyage in the Pacific to a composer writing letters to a lover in 1930s Great Britain to a reporter investigating a US nuclear facility in the 1970s to a publisher wrongfully committed to a nursing home by his brother in 2012 to the clone Somni-451 escaping her servitude and taking part in a rebellion in Neo-Seoul (Korea) in 2144 to a man trying to save himself and his family from cannibals in a post apocalyptic Hawaii circa 2300. Each story is engaging, and mostly successful make-up effects (there are a few misfires here) help the cast portray multiple characters across both race and gender lines. The action scenes are well handled, no surprise since the film is helmed by the Wachowski siblings (formerly the Wachowski Brothers), the people who brought us the Matrix trilogy, and Tom Tykwer, the director behind the thriller Run Lola Run. But action isn’t the only thing the film does well, as there are plenty of dramatic moments, as well as comedic ones. All come across terrifically, and are entertaining and at times thrilling. Each story keeps you guessing, as none necessarily play out as you think they might. Unlike the book, which nested the stories, working its way forward through time telling part of the story until the center of the book, and then finished the stories working backward through time to the novel’s end, the movie intercuts between the stories often, tying them together through such actions as a character walking through a door in one story and emerging on the other side as a different character in a different story. By all counts you’d think this wouldn’t work. It shouldn’t work, and yet it does, and it does so surprisingly well.
To accomplish all this jumping around, a movie needs a good cast to pull it all off, and here the filmmakers succeeded in their goal. The cast, all of who play anywhere from four to eight characters, includes such familiar faces as Tom Hanks (The DaVinci Code), Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball), Jim Broadbent (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe), Doona Bae (The Host, in her American debut), James D’Arcy (Hitchcock), Hugh Grant (Notting Hill), Hugo Weaving (the Matrix and the Lord of the Rings trilogies), and Susan Sarandon (Robot & Frank). All perform ably in the multiple roles, though in the case of Doona Bae the make-up doesn’t always transform her well. Still, even when the make-up may be less than stellar, the cast is up to the task at bringing this multitude of characters to life. Some standout better than others: Tom Hanks in the role of Zachry in the post apocalyptic Hawaii survival tale, Halle Berry as reporter Luisa Rey investigating a cover up at a nuclear plant in the 1970s US, and Doona Bae as clone Somni-451 who escapes her life as a servant and becomes part of a rebellion against the government. The stories all resolve themselves satisfactorily, and if you’ve been paying attention you’ll easily spot the connections to the other storylines. The music also does a nice job tying everything together, especially the use of the Cloud Atlas sextet, which figures strongly in two of the stories but also provides background throughout the movie. The visual effects are fantastic, ranging from the billowing white sails of a tall ship set against the blue of the Pacific to the futuristic cityscape of Neo-Seoul to the alien like structure visited by Zachry (Hanks) and Meronym (Berry) in Hawaii circa 2300. The pace of the movie moves nicely, taking us from one era to the next without leaving us lost as to where we are.
All in all, Cloud Atlas is a visual wonder, a time spanning epic, and a unique, entertaining experience. The cast does a terrific job, and the adaptation of David Mitchell’s book should certainly satisfy fans. It may not be for everyone. For some, the multiple roles taken on by the actors and the multiple storylines may prove to be too much and be overwhelming. For those up to the task, Cloud Atlas proves to be a fantastic journey with amazing visuals, and one of the most original and unique film experiences of 2012. Well worth your time to check this out.
Cloud Atlas is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
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