Monday, October 29, 2012

"Cloud Atlas"

Written and directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Jim Sturgess, and Hugo Weaving - Rated R

"Yesterday, I believe I would never have done what I did today."
Cloud Atlas needs to be seen just for the sheer ambition behind it.  Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) have adapted one of those “unfilmable” novels that always inevitably leads to a movie that some call brilliant and some label the “worst film ever made.”  Just so we’re clear from the onset, I thought it was one of, if not the best film of the year.  Cloud Atlas is one of those rare, magical films that stays with you and begs to be watched again and again.

Trying to describe what Cloud Atlas is “about” is an exercise in futility, but I won’t let that stop me.  It is an interwoven tale that spans from a seafaring adventure in 1849 to a struggling musician in the 1930s to a nuclear reactor conspiracy thriller in the 1970s to a nursing home escape in present day to a clone revolution in the future to a search for new beginnings after the downfall of civilization.  That is the simplest way to describe what the story of Cloud Atlas consists of.  If that sounds a bit busy, imagine how complicated it gets when you realize that most of the actors play a different role in each storyline, sometimes switching gender and race.  So a film like this isn’t necessarily about a certain plotline or anything, but more a story about humanity, love, freedom…life.  Cloud Atlas attempts to grab the viewer and give them a profound experience, and because of that many will label this film as “pretentious” or just “too ambitious.”  Maybe it is those things, but the film succeeded with me. 

Perhaps what will grab most people’s attention is the whole multiple role aspect of the film.  It is fascinating to see some actors take on vastly different roles than usual (Hugo Weaving as a woman and a Korean come to mind), but if that was all Cloud Atlas had to offer it would simply be a gimmick of Eddie Murphy proportions.  The point of the different roles is not to showcase acting or get nominations.  If you pay attention, you will see that each actor portrays basically the same character throughout, sometimes evolving over the different lifetimes.  Some of the character journeys are easier to track than others, but it is still a very interesting way to look at the film. 

Tracking character development and trying to spot the actors underneath all the makeup and prosthetics is not the only enjoyment to come from Cloud Atlas.  One of the marvels of the film is how it is all edited together in a surprisingly coherent fashion.  The novel was split up in a way that works if you are reading, but would be disastrous for a film.  The Wachowskis and Tykwer somehow found a way to tell these stories one scene at a time rather splitting each story in half.  This, of course, led to plenty of transitional elements that are fun to spot. 

The transitions and editing can nearly make you forget about the performances of the film (which is why I’m just now getting to them).  Or perhaps it’s because so many of the actors seamlessly move from one character to the next.  Tom Hanks is the most recognizable face.  He is one of the most likable actors in movie history, and every scene he is in works, most notably his role in the film’s final story.  His characters’ journey was not the most interesting, however, and his role really required the least amount of range.  (His scene as a gangster/writer was certainly a departure for him, though a short one.  Definitely one of my favorite moments from the film.)  It’s still Tom Hanks, and he provided an emotional core to the film.  Hugo Weaving was fun to watch in all of his evil incarnations.  It was good to see Hugh Grant and Halle Berry working in a quality film and delving into some very different parts, as a post-apocalyptic savage warrior and a male Korean doctor, respectively.  Jim Broadbent provided some welcome comedic moments in his main story and he worked as a great foil to Ben Whishaw’s struggling musician. Whishaw holds his own and is a name more people should now.  Doona Bae stands out as a clone with a soul in her futuristic storyline.  Her story arc with Jim Sturgess was the most compelling of the film.  I could go on and on.  The cast is great and they get to do some very interesting work.  Just look at all the names mentioned above, and also add Keith David and Susan Sarandon to the list.  An immense amount of talent was involved in the making of the film.

The most important talent, however, lies behind the camera.  The Wachowskis and Tykwer have made a stunningly beautiful film on every level.  There are images that stay with you, music that perfectly matches emotional scenes, superb action sequences, and worlds designed in such a way that you are left wanting more from each story (some more than others).  They have managed to take a lengthy story (it is nearly three hours long) and make it feel too short. 

It’s hard to truly think about Cloud Atlas without comparing it to the source material.  I was impressed with the novel in its structure and author David Mitchell’s ability to write from such vastly different settings and perspectives, but was left underwhelmed with the overall message about humanity.  I was missing the big picture moment that the film was able to provide.  So, in a rare instance, I recommend the film over the novel.  I cannot comment on how well the film works without prior knowledge, though.  I think the best experience would involve reading the book first, but I think it is a coherent and effective film on its own. 

As with all movies that I make sound perfect, Cloud Atlas does have slight issues.  I had trouble understanding the dialogue at times, especially the post-apocalyptic stuff (though that part was even difficult to read in the novel).  I also felt that some of the sections didn’t connect in as meaningful a way as others.  The musician segment and the nuclear reactor thriller were compelling and enjoyable, but I found the connecting thread to be a bit thin.  Perhaps “thin” is not the right word as the connection is certainly there, but it seemed as if the deeper themes that are evident in the other segments are not very clear.  Specifically, I felt that Cloud Atlas was a film very much about freedom and humans persevering, and I think you have to stretch the stories a bit to make those segments fit with the rest. 

The above issues are not really complaints about Cloud Atlas.  When a film has six separate stories, you can’t help but have a couple that are your favorite and a few that are your least favorite.  Still, I found the entire film extremely interesting and each story could have held its own as a standalone film. 

Cloud Atlas is a treasure trove of cinema.  It can be enjoyed on so many levels.  Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer have taken something many thought could not translate to the big screen and have made something better than the source material.  Cloud Atlas is a fulfilling movie experience that everyone should see.  

1 comment:

  1. I just saw Cloud Atlas as well and I enjoyed it too. Not having read the book, I can't compare the two. I also felt it had something to say about the 99%. Felt that was a very powerful statement and so pertinent to some of the matters we have all been grappling with in current events.