The film adaptation of British author David Mitchell’s bestselling novel, Cloud Atlas, is what happens when two (or three or four) different styles collide. The unevents of your standard Merchant Ivory production merges with the soulless visuals of Lucasfilm to tell a variety of costume dramas about slavery and its master. It’s a glorious mix of six different settings – starring all the same actors in a variety of roles (regardless of gender and race) – that attempts to tackle an enlightening message about humanity. While meant to be uplifting, the movie doesn’t quite work in solving problem number one: the genre-hopping matrix in its gears cannot successfully build dramatic tension and, as a result, the movie comes across as pretentious hokum.
Written and directed by Lana Wachowski (The Matrix), Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix), Cloud Atlas begins with its science fiction ending, an old man (Tom Hanks) telling a campfire story for his young’uns in broken Jar-Jar Binks-like speech patterns. The allegorical tale he recounts is a plot line for another tale and so on. We are soon whisked away to the Pacific. And then Cambridge. And then San Francisco. And then London. And then Neo Seoul. And then back to after The Fall (of civilization). Rinse and repeat.
In its simplified form, we move from a sea voyage involving a poisoned sailor (Jim Sturgess) and a stowaway slave (David Gyasi) to a war of composers between a maestro (Jim Broadbent) and his scribe (Ben Wishaw) to an investigative thriller as a journalist (Halle Berry) takes on an oil tycoon (Hugh Grant) to a comedy about a book editor (Broadbent) trying to escape a home for the elderly to a science fiction messianic love story about a rebel (Sturgess) and the slave (Doona Bae) he rescues and, finally, to the story of Zachary (Tom Hanks) and the mysterious space explorer (Berry).
Hard to digest, I know, but these are the film’s many settings. It's bold, yes, but nothing of originality really occurs in these stories; it’s all razzle-dazzle and intended misdirection. Knowing this, the filmmakers attempt to bring everything together with a positive theme that transcends the movie’s settings and a recurring comet-shaped birthmark that defies explanation. Cross-cutting the way it does, the emotionally deflated stories in Cloud Atlas are hard to invest in. You can’t really care about these characters. You simply don’t have time to; the forward momentum of this picture is unforgiving. Adapt to it or move along.
Yet, to its credit, Cloud Atlas moves tirelessly between each of its storylines. Big props must be given to the marvelous editing job by Alexander Berner. This film easily could have been unhinged by its hiccupy narrative flow, but it is not. In fact, Cloud Atlas is one of the least confusing independent films ever to hit the megaplex and that’s easily something to commend it for.
The best part of the picture is easily Broadbent’s comical escape from a Nurse Ratched-like Hugo Weaving (in a gender bending performance) as he and a gang of old folk work to outsmart their captives. Weaving’s makeup is atrocious and never convincing but the old folks vs. the system situation is really the only relief the audience gets from the obvious philosophical rant this film basis its existence upon. I’d love to suggest the science fictiony atmosphere of the Hanks and Berry storyline works but – having seen Battlestar Galactica – I can tell you that it’s a half-assed attempt to cop that television show’s style and bring the loopy narrative a conclusion (that only half makes sense).
Unfortunately, Cloud Atlas and its eternal “one soul, one fight” theme song doesn’t quite gel after the first hour (and there are two more to sit through). Riveting at the on-set, Cloud Atlas releases its energy in a loud philosophical bomb that announces itself all too clearly and, perhaps, all too soon. There’s really nothing to discover; love is eternal and so is the fight for what’s right. For the next two hours, the film really goes nowhere; it’s like watching The Matrix Trilogy in one setting. Starts strong, but finishes with a whimper. And that, dear readers, is NOT a good thing.
Filled with one thematic montage too many, Cloud Atlas spoils itself in its time-sweeping arcs that attempt to parallel its characters and their individual situations with a crescendo-like tension that is either too familiar or too full of itself to be fully appreciated. I can applaud the ambition behind bringing Cloud Atlas to life; however, I cannot applaud the end result.
For all of its sound and fury, the soulless Cloud Atlas signifies nothing.
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use.
Runtime: 172 mins.
Director: Tom Tykwer; Andy Wachowski; Lana Wachowski
Writer: Tom Tykwer; Andy Wachowski; Lana Wachowski
Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry; Jim Broadbent; Hugo Weaving; Jim Sturgess, James D'Arcy
Genre: Mystery | Sci-fi
Tagline: Everything Is Connected
Memorable Movie Quote: "A half-finished book is, after all, a half finished love affair."
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Official Site: cloudatlas.warnerbros.com
Release Date: October 26, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available.
Synopsis: Cloud Atlas explores how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, the present and the future. Action, mystery and romance weave dramatically through the story as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero and a single act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution in the distant future.