As visually engaging as it is emotionally resonant, Cloud Atlas is a successfully innovative storytelling showpiece, though it's not without its flaws.
Cloud Atlas, directed by the film making duo known as the Wachowskis (The Matrix, Speed Racer) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), tells six interrelated stories that take place in different time periods. Let’s see how well I fare at describing all six within one paragraph.
The first, set in the late 19th century, follows a poisoned lawyer on a sea voyage as he chronicles his endeavor in a journal. The second takes place in 1930s London, following a young composer who struggles to write his masterpiece, communicating his problems through letters he writes to his boyfriend, Sixsmith. The third story, which is set in 1976 in San Francisco, follows Louisa Rey, a journalist who finds herself mixed up in her own mystery. Taking place in modern-day London, the fourth story follows Timothy Cavendish as he attempts escape from his high-security home for the elderly after his brother tricks him into checking in. The fifth (and in my opinion the most compelling) tale takes place in "New Seoul" in the 22nd century, following Sonmi-451, a clone who is freed by the rebel cause to fight for their freedom. Finally, the sixth story takes place far in the future—after the “fall”, where humans have digressed to minimal technology and culture that is reminiscent of the Stone Age.
Obviously Cloud Atlas is packed with story, but it is far from tired or contrived. These six stories are not told back-to-back, but rather cut so that they could switch between each other at any given moment. Sometimes the Wachowskis will let one story breathe for about 10 minutes, then cut to another for 1 minute, then switch to yet another for 5 more minutes. It's quite impressive considering the fact that nearly 75% of these cuts are significant to the continuity of the stories. For example; Sonmi-451 will be giving a monologue in her storyline, and then it will cut to the young composer saying the last couple of her words in a totally different, yet still connected, situation. The way I'm describing it might lead you to believe that it's very schizophrenic, but trust me-- the editing job was one of the aspects of the film that I enjoyed the most, if only because it does a nice job of keeping you involved for the nearly 2 hour 50 minute running time.
Cloud Atlas features a bevy of actors and actresses, including Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, and Ben Whishaw—but undoubtedly Tom Hanks and Halle Berry are front and center, sharing the most important roles out of the entire cast. That’s one thing that also impressed me in Cloud Atlas—the Wachowskis utilize the same actors across every one of the six storylines, even if you might not be able to recognize them when they’re covered with make-up and/or prosthetics. If I didn’t tell you that Halle Berry is made up to be an old Asian man in one scene, would you recognize that is was her?
The acting itself is pretty solid. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry shine in most of their roles, as do Jim Broadbent and Ben Whishaw. Whishaw plays one of my favorite characters, the young composer Frobisher, in my favorite storyline of the six. He brings a good amount of depth to the character that really elevates the somewhat conventional role that’s presented to him.
There is so much to say about this film that I found it hard to put it into a manageably short review. So with that, I will wrap it up by saying this: the film is bloated, and two of the storylines could have easily been axed (the one about the ill lawyer and the weird “after the fall” storyline) which I bet would cut the film down a good 25 minutes, but I never felt bored. You will find yourself invested in most of the characters; there are some moments of total emotional truth sprinkled throughout the film. Even if the film was absolutely terrible (which it wasn’t), what the Wachowskis have accomplished cannot simply be dismissed. The sheer scope of this movie is admirable, and the fact that it is mostly understandable and interesting is just an added bonus. The score to the film is phenomenal as well.
If you’ve been following my blog since the beginning, you might recall that Cloud Atlas topped my list of my most anticipated films of the second half of 2012. Did it fulfill my expectations? Well, not quite—but I wasn’t disappointed. I was impressed and emotionally invested, but if some of the unnecessary fat was cut away, this could’ve been one of the best of 2012. That’s not to say you shouldn’t purchase a ticket though; Cloud Atlas is a very different film-going experience—and for all the right reasons. I give Cloud Atlas a 7.8/10.
P.S. : I apologize for not posting any reviews for 3 weeks, readers! I’ve been so busy with school and other extracurricular activities, but I will try my best to ensure that a delay of this size won’t happen again!