Cloud Atlas Directed by: Andy Wachowski & Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Susan Sarandon, Ben Whishaw, Doona Bae Running Time: 2 hrs 52 mins Rating: R Release Date: October 26, 2012
PLOT: The actions of individuals impact the entire world over the course of thousands of years. From the past, present and future, different souls have the chance to be villains and heroes.
WHO'S IT FOR? In general, this is for moviegoers who can give their attention to a unique science fiction-fantasy, while also allowing it to play out before asking questions. Afterward, the film is prime material for Inception-like puzzle completing, and will beckon back its viewers for a second or third look. This is definitely a movie to keep up with — idle viewers shouldn't even bother.
EXPECTATIONS: I am a big supporter of Wachowski (and Tykwer) ambitiousness, as indicated by my strong love for the misunderstood Speed Racer. However, the running time of Cloud Atlas still scared me. Would sitting through 172 minutes of whatever the hell this was going to be feel like karmic punishment for teasing my friend about sitting through Solaris? Was this going to be a hundred million dollar version of "It's A Small World After All"?
Tom Hanks as various characters: Especially as this movie relies on a performer's transcending charisma in various appearances, an actor as charismatic as Hanks shows that he's made for this type of role. Whether it's his introduction as the movie's mumbly future sage, or the wacky Dr. Goose, Hanks shows an ability to tinker with different voices without losing them to cheap impersonations. Score: 7
Halle Berry as various characters: Not making much of a claim to be back in the spotlight after Cloud Atlas passes, Berry is simply serviceable here in her roles of unhappy wife, investigator, object of affection, soldier, et al. It's unclear as to what precedence she brings to these roles. In this case, maybe (maybe) a second viewing will help, but on first experience with Cloud Atlas, none of Berry's characters provide the audience with much to emotionally cling to. Score: 4
Jim Broadbent as various characters: The sweet older actor especially shines in the 2012 story, which might be the most fulfilling of all of the eras in Cloud Atlas. It's an endearing underdog moment that makes great use of the actor's comedic charm, especially as a goofy person with pizzaz to his klutziness. Though Cloud Atlas makes a joke that this character would get an inspirational movie about his heroic rescue, seeing a film led by Broadbent with such perky shenanigans doesn't seem like a bad idea. Score: 6
Hugh Grant as various characters: The biggest surprise in acting for Cloud Atlas, aside from the completely random castings of people in completely crazy roles, might be the utilization of Grant. It turns out that the actor's distinctive droopy eyes have the right make for villainy, with or without extreme dosages of makeup (his worst moment being in 2012, although he's quite believable as a post-apocalypse barbarian, oddly enough). Even the role that has him most dressed down to expected smugness (San Francisco) doesn't have the blandness we've gotten used to with Grant. Among many things, Cloud Atlas succeeds in making its viewers believe that Grant has the potential to be a great source of evil — and not just because he made Did You Hear About the Morgans? a reality. Score: 6
Hugo Weaving as various characters: The man who made the stone cold Agent Smith intimidating in The Matrix continues to be the face of evil for Wachowski storytelling. With Cloud Atlas, he takes on different levels of supporting evil, with his ability to have a slithering voice and freaky glares used with snaky malevolent flair. He's especially freaky when pulling a Nurse Ratched in drag. Score: 6
Rest of Cast: Sturgess looks awfully Keanu-y in the segment in New Seoul, which is strange, but fitting to the anime-loving Wachowski aesthetic. In the film's most touching sequence, Whishaw brings a few notes of beauty to his chapter involving lost love and music. Bae is compelling plastic being brought to revolutionary life, trying to break free from the mentalities that have controlled her for years. Score: 6
TALKING: Though fitting to the themes explored in the movie, some of the statements made by various incarnations in Cloud Atlas feel unnatural to a character's traits, such as when Weaving's Pacific Isle version instantly claims the massive idea that "There is a natural order to things" when defending the hierarchy in slavery, or when Berry's San Francisco ponders a crucial film theme out loud by saying, "Why do we make the same mistakes?" However, in the vein of this layered movie's ideology, it is compelling that everyone would have contradicting understandings of how "things" are supposed to work. As with the whole connectivity aspect of Cloud Atlas, there are references in dialogue from one story that can be readily correlated to others, a type of puzzle-solving that alone makes a second viewing desirable. In a similar sense, the movie varies with its narrators, without letting such a storytelling tool becoming overwhelming despite its heavy usage. Score: 6
SIGHTS: Essentially six different movies weaved together, the imagination of Cloud Atlas is brought to hype by its thorough visuals, especially in consideration to set design, makeup, and costume design. Each story, regardless of the technology in each particular era, is enlivened with exquisite attention to distinctive detail, from the massive Neo Seoul landscape in 2144, or the stark interiors of 1970s San Francisco, or the meticulous face markings in the film's post apocalyptic story. The art of movie makeup is given its glory moment with Cloud Atlas, with characters completely successfully disappearing into different ages, genders, and races (that is, until the casting call in the credits reveals all the ones you missed). While they certainly have their moments, the cinematography and editing in the film are the least outwardly impressive visual components, though they do achieve some of the poignant poetry one would hope for. Before any character speaks about the significance of "doors," the editing has made its own statement with slickly blended scenes that take the viewer from one cliffhanger in a scene to another. Score: 9
SOUNDS: The film's score, serviceable to the encompassing Hollywood blockbuster of the film, is overshadowed by the music performed in the movie, which especially includes the film's title sextet. Yet despite the length of such a movie, and the importance that piece appears to hold to all of the stories, we hear this beautiful piece of music for an underwhelming amount of time. Score: 6
BEST SCENE: There was something very, very amusing about seeing Sturgess as a Scotsman during the Cavendish episode. I laughed.
ENDING: For a movie with so many different eras and so many different stories being told at once, it doesn't have the neatness one might expect. Instead, as it does bring the symmetry of the first shot of the movie to that of the last, it simply ends ... story time is over. The casting call at the end of the movie is very helpful, even though it does turn some of the role selection into trick casting, with audience members joining together in choruses of, "Oh snap, that dude played a lady dude!"
QUESTIONS: How much will this movie have to make for it to avoid the lambasting of "flop"? After hearing word that this is a largely independent project, how much time did the Wachowskis + Tykwer spend getting funding for this movie? And of course, how different is this film from the literary source? What causes Frobisher to pick up the book in the first place? Is Tom Hanks playing a cameo as himself in the movie in the film about Cavendish's life?
REWATCHABILITY: This is a movie that you need to take a step back from, talk about it for a long time, and then go back into it to see how things match up. This is much more of a credit to the movie's massiveness than its ingenuity, though it is evidence that the film does thankfully have subtleties when it comes to presenting its many threads. Days later after seeing Cloud Atlas, I am still thinking about it, and feel a second viewing would be both entertaining and even more fulfilling to my hopes of understanding this ambitious movie.
Cloud Atlas is essentially made of six different films about slavery and liberation set in different time periods, as woven together to make one massive sci-phi (the "phi" is for "philosophy," get it?) movie about the associations spirits, not physical forms, have with one another throughout the entirety of existence. Even though it's constructed of simple parts, it is heady as all get-out; much more laborious than Inception to keep up with on the first viewing (which is good, and also bad). I imagine a second look will be quite rewarding to all the pieces in place. But, I've only seen it once, so here goes.
Like previous films in the Wachowski authorship, the stories of Cloud Atlas are united by the thematic thread of freedom from oppression, hinging on the climactic instances in which characters enslaved by overbearing forces make their life or death stand for liberation. These anticipated payoffs, which seem to be the element other than philosophical connectivity that excited the film's makers, are betrayed by Cloud Atlas' inability to swiftly program these stories into the audience, in cases in which clever and acute development is urgently needed (instead, the filmmakers refer to the power of the voiceover, though there is some visual rhyming to be seen). In this circumstance, the movie's daring organizational style of jumping between extremely different stories does not prove to be the most unobtrusive method for allowing first-time viewers to get acclimated with the massive craziness that is Cloud Atlas. Indeed, maybe a second viewing will do really well for this film, but such a response is expensive fallback to have, especially when movies 1/6th the brainpower of this collective beast make for more digestible fare at the multiplex. It's as if Cloud Atlas is made for the cult status it feels it earns on its wacky ambition alone.
With the film lacking a singular chapter of great depth, the fulfilling poetry of Cloud Atlas can be best found in the connections of these stories much more often than within the tales themselves. And even then, the events don't always inform each other. Instead, they coyly toy with subtler coincidences and symmetries, which there seem to be a lot of, requiring arduous pinpointing to make sense of the bigger picture.
For a movie with such massive dedication to its crazy ambition, Cloud Atlas is extremely curious science fiction that remains a mindboggler. And yet, it is so vastly singular, and so thought-provoking in its enterprise, that it earns its claim to be perpetually analyzed.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10