CLOUD ATLAS (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares
It’s not often you go to the movies and see something that is truly epic these days. Sure, Ridley Scott’s latest film, PROMETHEUS was epic in scope (even if it was a bit of a disappointment – nothing could live up to the expectations for that movie!), but that’s a rarity. In comparison, the new movie CLOUD ATLAS seems even more ambitious, with stories taking place in multiple time periods, converging and echoing through each other, from the past to the far future.
So does it work?
Surprisingly, it does. CLOUD ATLAS gives us front-row seats to six different stories:
1) The first one takes place 1849 and involves a young lawyer named Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), on a long sea voyage, during which he is being poisoned by the ship’s doctor, Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks) who claims to be treating him for a parasite. Ewing’s path also crosses with that of a stowaway slave named Autua (David Gyasi).
2) In England in the 1930s, a poor young composer named Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) leaves his lover, Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy) to become the assistant of a great old composer who has been silent for several years. Intent on inspiring the man to work on a new symphony, Frobisher finds that working with his hero is not as wonderful as he expected.
3) In San Francisco in the 70s, an investigative reporter, Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) is on the trail of a conspiracy involving corrupt officials and a nuclear power plant. People who help her end up dead, and she races against the clock to get her story out to the world before she can be silenced.
4) In modern day England, a publisher named Timothy Cavendish puts out a new book by a murderous gangster named Dermot Higgins (Tom Hanks in a wonderful role). When Higgins’ henchmen come looking for money, Cavendish goes into hiding at an old age home owned by his vindictive brother, Denholme (Hugh Grant), with unexpected results.
5) In Neo Seoul, Korea in 2144, we follow the story of a clone bred to serve consumers named Sonmi-451 (Bae Doona) and her sudden awareness that there is more to life than servitude, thanks to the intervention of a man named Hae-Joo Chang (Jim Sturgess).
6) In the far future, a post-apocalyptic world has reverted to barbarism (including marauding bands of cannibals), and a goat herder named Zachry finds himself playing host to a “Prescient” named Meronym (Halle Berry). The Prescients are the last race on the planet who still have access to technology, and Meronym is looking for something only Zachry can help her find, that could affect the fate of mankind.
As you can see, there’s a lot going on here. And at first each storyline is introduced distinctly, but as the movie continues, we find ourselves constantly jumping back and forth between timelines and storylines. It resembles nothing so much as a cosmic juggling act. However, despite the fact that so much is going on, and we have so many characters parading before us, the viewer is not once confused about what’s happening. The movie is surprisingly clear, despite its complexity.
Also, despite an almost three hour running time, not once did I find myself getting bored. The time went by quickly, and I was constantly in suspense, wondering what was going to happen next to the characters onscreen.
And how epic is this movie? Well, it needed three directors to tell its story: Lana and Andy Wachowski (who gave us the MATRIX trilogy, and who leave that series in the dust with this movie!) and Tom Tykwer, the excellent German director who gave us such films as the art-house classic RUN LOLA RUN (1998) and the underrated THE PRINCESS AND THE WARRIOR (2000). Each of the three directors tackled different storylines, and yet it is all quite seamless.
I don’t really want to go into much more detail besides giving you the very brief synopses of each storyline above. CLOUD ATLAS is to be experienced and enjoyed, and the less you know about where each storyline is leading, the better. Because there are surprises along the way.
All I know is that I was completely enthralled by this film, in ways that something like PROMETHEUS doesn’t even come close. Where PROMETHEUS was confusing at times and enigmatic, CLOUD ATLAS is riveting and satisfying. As you can see by the descriptions, several actors appear in multiple roles throughout the movie in different eras, and it works quite well. Even if some of the makeup occasionally lets us down (Hugo Weaving’s turn as Nurse Noakes comes instantly to mind – not once did I believe he was playing a woman).
Is it perfect? No. Sometimes the whole “we are all connected” philosophy that fuels the movie seems a little preachy, and silly. We’ve heard this kind of thing a hundred times before and better (for a more compelling take on past lives and afterlives, you might want to check out Gaspar Noe’s superior ENTER THE VOID, 2009, for example). But that “philosophy” isn’t, ultimately, what defines this movie.
Based on the novel by David Mitchell, written (as well as directed) by the Wachowskis and Tykwer, CLOUD ATLAS is ultimately about its characters: believable, sympathetic human beings that we grow to care about over the course of the film. Not all of the storylines are equal. The tale aboard a ship in the 1800s was probably my least favorite of the stories, and the ones set in the future were among the best for me. However, I found myself eagerly involved in all of them. And yes, by the end, the stories do seem to all be connected, and resonate throughout each other.
The acting is top-rate. I haven’t seen Hanks or Berry this good in a long time, and people like Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, Keith David and Hugo Weaving in multiple roles are fascinating. Bae Doona as the clone Sonmi-451 in the New Seoul storyline might be the most compelling character of all.
If you are a fan of the MATRIX films and of Tykwer’s previous work, you will be astonished how this movie is a big step forward. If you didn’t care for the MATRIX films (and I know I started to lose interest after the first one), then CLOUD ATLAS will redeem the Wachowskis for you.
I was truly dazzled by this movie, and I recommend everyone go and experience it for themselves. I give CLOUD ATLAS, four out of five knives.
© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares
L.L. Soares gives CLOUD ATLAS – four knives!