Cloud Atlas – Capsule Movie Review

cloud1From the Wachowskis (Andy & Lana), creators of The Matrix trilogy and Tom Tykwer, director of Run, Lola, Run, Cloud Atlas was poised to be a mind-bending piece of sci-fi filmmaking. An adaptation of David Mitchell’s novel of the same name, the story (set in six distinct time periods) deals with reincarnation and the evolving of souls over lifetimes. For the movie, the cast were reused throughout the different storylines and make up and visual effects transformed their ages, races, genders, etc. from one character to another. Some actors played characters that evolved from bad to good over their lifetimes (like Tom Hanks who went from an evil Doctor in the 19th century, to a gentle farmer in post-post-apocalyptic Hawaii of 2321). Others remained somewhat villainous throughout (Hugo Weaving played everything from a quasi Agent-Smith-style character in a cyberpunk future Korea, to a Nurse-Ratchet-style character in 2012 UK, to a bizarre bogeyman type figment of Tom Hanks’s imagination in the far future). While clearly intended for some thematic purpose, the recycling of actors into the guises of various characters who look very different, worked very much as a gimmick in this movie as well. I found myself trying to spot all the actors in their various faces once I started recognizing them. Unfortunately, some of the gender and racial “transformations” were far from complete, while others were pretty good. I barely recognized Halle Berry as a young blond beauty, but Jim Sturgess and James D’Arcy as future Koreans did not look very Asian (I actually thought they were meant to be a futuristic hybrid race), and Doona Bae as a red-headed southern belle looked bizarre. Aside from the characters, there were many other links between the time periods: music, such as the Cloud Atlas Sextet (a creation of this story, but used to varying degrees in individual storylines); historical links, such as a character reading the journal of another from a past storyline, or a character becoming a religious figure to other characters in the far future; also, there were some themes such as “personal freedom” and “the corruption of greed”, that recurred in various storylines as well. Since the movie inter-cut the various storylines, they each unfolded a bit at a time. The effect was a bit confusing, but interesting as well. By the end, I was convinced that there were bigger messages but I also felt that I needed to watch the movie again in order to capture it all. Despite these complications, the movie itself still had its moments of fun and cinematic thrill. The Neo Seoul setting was classic cyber-punk, and despite his failure to appear Asian, Sturgess was a great sci-fi action hero, liberating Doona Bae and protect her from their pursuers. In the far future setting, Hanks’s character braves some high mountainous terrain to bring Berry’s character to a special destination that she hopes will bring salvation to both their civilizations. Each story has a different flavour, so it’s like watching six movies in one. Though that’s a great thing to attempt in a movie, it was probably part of the reason why it was less successful than it should have been in the theatres. The various sub-movies don’t really mesh and may have led to confusion and dissatisfaction that a single story would have overcome. Nevertheless, Cloud Atlas is an interesting experiment in story-telling. (3.5 out of 5)

cloud-atlasSalon.com has a pretty good summary of the various storylines in case anyone is confused. Spoilers abound, so don’t read this unless you’ve already seen the movie.

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