Cloud Atlas: A Film Of Admirable Imagination and Ambition

Cloud Atlas didn’t deserve to flop. If anything, we need more films like it– films that dare to be ultra-theatrical, to be ambitious beyond the norm. It’s the type of movie that not only deserves to be seen on the big screen, that leaves you sitting afterward feeling grateful you had the opportunity to witness it in theaters once it’s finished. The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer direct three separate storylines apiece using the same actors as different characters and weave them all together in the editing room to make one magnificent tale of morality and fate in the universe. We travel from the 1800s to the distant future, as actors play different ages, races, and genders in different time periods. Either this makes you roll your eyes or it absolutely thrills you on a conceptual level– I fall into the latter category. And while there are some clunky moments and the occasional distracting makeup job, Cloud Atlas gets huge degree of difficult points; it sticks the landing so well that you’re likely to be blown away.

Brief summary of the six storylines: 1. A young man (Jim Sturgess) goes on a voyage with a doctor (Tom Hanks) and discovers a slave (David Gyasi) stowed away seeking freedom. 2. A young composer (Ben Whishaw) writes letters to his lover (James D’Arcy) as he attempts to write a masterpiece sextet while working for a brilliant older composer (Jim Broadbent). 3. A reporter (Halle Berry) stumbles upon environmental crimes at a nuclear power plant, and, with the help of an older gentleman (D’Arcy again) and one of the corporation’s workers (Hanks again), seeks to uncover the truth. 4. In modern-day, a book publisher (Broadbent again) looking for refuge from a disgruntled thug author (Hanks again) turns to his brother (Hugh Grant), only to be locked away in a mental ward, where he and some fellow inmates must escape the clutches of a Nurse Ratched-esque woman (Hugo Weaving). 5. In a futuristic Korea, a clone named Sonmi-451 (Doona bae) recounts how she was freed from the bonds of a life of servitude by a young man named Hae-Joo Chang (Sturgess again), who proceeds to help her escape the police and open her eyes to the dark underbelly of the city. 6. In a post-apocalyptic future, a tribesman (Hanks again) helps one of the last few members of a technologically-advanced people (Berry again) to travel up a mountain as per her request, despite danger lurking in the form of a violent tribal chief (Grant again) and visions of the Devil (Weaving again).

I understand that the previous paragraph is a tough pill to swallow. It makes much less sense in summary than in execution. Even if the details are fuzzy after the initial viewing, as the amount of information can be almost overwhelming, the overall picture is clear: it’s the film equivalent of a Magic Eye 3D image. Yet that may be unfair, as it implies that everything in the film doesn’t hold up under scrutiny, which I can’t accurately assess at first glance. However, the message is abundantly clear: be good to other people. It’s the most complicated telling of that simplistic message I’ve ever seen portrayed on screen, yet it reinvigorates that message as a result. It tackles legacy as well, how stories and choices are passed down through and affect generations to come– even if you don’t believe in literal reincarnation (like myself), it’s still an emotionally stirring concept. Finally, it’s impossible to not think of Lana Wachowski, the transgender Wachowski sibling who co-directed here: many of the tales deal with discrimination and the importance of standing up for what’s right despite crippling fears. One can sense the film has inspired her own emergence into the public eye for the first time.

The performances throughout are terrific: some actors have less to do than others (the women in particular, sadly), but the ones given multiple meaty roles really shine. I haven’t been a big fan of Jim Sturgess to date, but here he seems freed and far more energetic and expressive than films past. Jim Broadbent is a pleasure in any film, and his comedic storyline (the fourth) packs a surprisingly stirring emotional punch. It’s insanely fun to watch Tom Hanks in this, not just because he’s brilliant, but in the roles that are far from the usual Hanksian everyman, he excels– especially as the modern-day thug author. I should also mention Hugh Grant, who plays a pack of notably un-Grant-ian villains: as the tribe chief in the final plotline, he is physically intimidating and ferocious.

Some of the stories are more engaging than others– I found the Halle Berry reporter tale to be a bit disjointed, and the tale of Jim Sturgess on the boat grows repetitive– but my favorites were the boldest; the gay love story is earnest and heart-wrenching, and the post-apocalyptic tale tackles a type of pigeon dialogue that is tricky to understand but easy to be impressed by. The Wachowskis are perfect for this type of film: full of effects and ambition while remaining earnest and somewhat on-the-nose thematically. The Matrix films aren’t my bag, but I loved Speed Racer, and here again they deliver something entirely new to the world of film. I predict most will either love it or hate it, with myself firmly in the former camp. It’s a shame more people didn’t go buy tickets to decide for themselves so we could get more films like this in the future.

~ by russellhainline on November 9, 2012.

4 Responses to “Cloud Atlas: A Film Of Admirable Imagination and Ambition”

  1. Thanks for the synopsis. I hope to see it this weekend. I was wracked out of my brain with a cold last weekend.

  2. I really enjoyed the film, and I found the story of the composer and the two lovers really compelling. When he was in the tub toward the end of the movie, I got teary-eyed.

  3. […] Looper 8. Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty 7. David Cronenberg, Cosmopolis 6. The Wachowskis, Cloud Atlas 5. Steven Spielberg, Lincoln 4. Peter Jackson, The Hobbit (in HFR) 3. Joe Wright, Anna Karenina 2. […]

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