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Aug 16, 2013

Review: Cloud Atlas (2012)

           Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D'Arcy, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Zhou Xun, Keith David and David Gyasi


                     Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer


                 Adapted from the 2004 novel of the same name by David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas is one big ball of various genres and spectacle reaching far beyond any other film have ever been. Just like its central theme, there are endless possibilities in the movie and where your interpretation or your whole experience can go depending on how much you are willing to give in. What literally saddened me the most after watching this film was how great it actually was but how poorly it was treated by a handful of critics. I get some of the mixed response that many people had towards it but for critics to call it "one of the worse movies of the year" or in a particular case, THE worst film of the year is very disappointing. I don't think Cloud Atlas is a bad film, its not an average movie either. Forget its running time and scope for a second, i didn't see any big or troubling flaws in it that will make people dislike it. I can say that some parts in the movie works very well and others don't really has that spark in them but that doesn't change much. Its nearly 3 hours long and features about every genre that you can think of. Its like seeing many movies at once within a movie and you'll have the pleasure and honor of having more fun than you can every imagine with that. Do you need to really make all of it into some serious cosmic phenomenon? I don't think so because its how they show that element sweeping across centuries and lives without making you to start developing theories about them. This is more like a 3 hours version of the "Creation" sequence from "The Tree of Life" but based on human beings and how one's act can transcend lives and souls. Its like an adventure film where you get to have a taste of the past, present and the future with about every single thing that you have seen in the movies related to those particular periods. It can be seen purely as cinematic mosaic of various genres. It can be enjoyed purely on the basis of how interconnected in so many ways all of these stories are. Cloud Atlas isn't rushed nor does it wastes its time. The filmmakers here aren't just interested in playing "spot the actor" with you as many people have suggested so but they are giving you a mind blowing experience as well as establishing emotional base for these stories which in the end is very helpful.

                 Cloud Atlas is directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski (who made The Matrix trilogy) as well as Tom Tykwer (who made Run Lola Run). It features six interrelated stories that are connected with each other in more than one way. Unlike the novel, the movie gives each of the story good enough time to establish and then we move on to another one, then another one, then coming back so its like a mosaic that propels the plot forward in the manner of something that is spinning. With each spin, the movie establishes enough for us to invest in and as the action shifts and then back to the same, it starts spinning faster and faster. I don't know how to really talk about each of those stories and the characters and the actors and the plot so I'll treat them as one will treat a collection of short films in chronological order. This is the best i can do without making myself confused and probably bore the hell out of you as well. Since i am breaking down the elements, Its all the more best to read them after you have seen the movie, otherwise skip to my second part of the review way down below.

1. "1849 - South Pacific Ocean"


Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess)
Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks)
Reverend Giles Horrox (Hugh Grant)
Haskell Moore (Hugo Weaving)
Autua (David Gyasi)
Tilda Ewing (Doona Bae)
Madame Horrox (Susan Sarandon)
Captain Molyneux (Jim Broadbent)
Native Woman (Halle Berry)
Kupaka (Keith David)
Cabin Boy (Ben Whishaw)

                 Adam Ewing is an American lawyer from San Francisco who has come to the Pacific Islands to meet with a plantation owner Reverend Giles Horrox. The business arrangement is for his father-in-law, Haskell Moore. There, he witnesses whipping of a slave named Autua. The evil Dr. Henry Goose is meanwhile poisoning Ewing in order to steal his valuables. Does Ewing dies eventually or is he saved by someone? If so, what does he do in the end for what he sees happening on the islands?

                 This is your historical part of the movie and is in the diary-writing format. The oldest of the six, it features slavery as its central plot and how a decent man discovers how his racist father-in-law is doing things. Sturgess is the good guy here while Grant, Hanks, Weaving plays the bad ones. There are small appearances by other actors as well, some almost unrecognizable. The art direction and costumes are pretty good in this one. Its like an adventure film but mostly tackles the historical themes more than action to establish a storyline that is poignant in the end but suspenseful at first. The act of kindness, standing up for the right thing and contributing something to the cause that will eventually spark a revolution.... that is what basically happens here.

2. "1936 - Cambridge, England and Edinburgh, Scotland"


Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw)
Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy)
Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent)
Jocasta Ayrs (Halle Berry)
Hotel Heavy (Hugh Grant)
Hotel Manager (Tom Hanks)
Tadeusz Kesselring (Hugo Weaving)
Poor Hotel Guest (Jim Sturgess)

                 Robert Frobisher is a young English musician, we see him in bed with Rufus Sixsmith. He flees from there just in time and finds work as a protege to the famous aging musician, Vyvyan Ayrs. In the letter he writes to Sixsmith, he tells him that he is working on his own masterpiece called "The Cloud Atlas Sextet". Ayrs wants to take all the credit and wont let Frobisher leave by threatening him to expose his affair. Frobisher is bisexual, he sleeps with Ayrs' much younger wife as well. So how does the confrontation between Frobisher and Ayrs ends? Do the two lovers finally reunites in the end?

                 This is probably the most heartbreaking and touching story in the movie. It is a romantic one, features letter writing, affair, love, betrayal and... death. What i loved about this one is that it doesn't go in the very overblown weepy category that usual romantic films based in period settings go for. The very first image of two lovers lying in bed to the music composition to the letters and then that end. It plays in a subtle, slowly piercing your heart in its way kind. The end is pretty tragic, left me with tears in my eyes. The performance by Ben Whishaw is superb. Broadbent is good as well and he plays the bad guy here as you know. Took me ages to recognize other actors. Its not just the actors that links up to the previous story but a more apparent link is that of Frobisher reading Ewing’s diaries. A very emotional and passionate story directed with perfection.

3. "1973 - San Francisco, California"


Luisa Rey (Halle Berry)
Isaac Sachs (Tom Hanks)
Old Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy)
Lloyd Hooks (Hugh Grant)
Bill Smoke (Hugo Weaving)
Napier (Keith David)
Store Clerk (Ben Whishaw)
Hotel Manager (Zhou Xun)
Hispanic woman (Doona Bae)

                 Luisa Rey is a journalist in San Francisco who comes across a plot involving a nuclear power plant. In the elevator, she meets the now old Rufus Sixsmith who works there as a physicist and is aware of the bad stuff that has been going on. Isaac Sachs is an employee in the plant who runs into Rey while she is looking for something in an office. They both feel an instant connection. Bill Smoke is hired by Lloyd Hooks, president of the plant to kill anyone who gets in the way. What happens to the stubborn journalist who does get in the way? What about Sixsmith who is trying to get the reports to her?

                 This is your conspiracy thriller plot, these kind of movies were really popular in the 70's specially. The setting is very cold war type, you know it reminds you of the atmosphere that used to exist at that time. Journalist doesn't care about her life and some of the employees having seen the bad things tries to help her uncover the secret and thus begins the chase against time and everyone is in danger. When you reach this part, the connections become even more apparent. Sixsmith is working in the plant, Rey discovers the letters Frobisher wrote to him. Rey is later seen going into a record store where she asks for "The Cloud Atlas Sextet" and the person working there is played by Ben Whishaw who played Frobisher previously. The pace of this story is pretty fast and thrilling. This is more enjoyable than it actually is. I liked seeing Berry and Hanks together and their characters feeling that connection with each other. Good chemistry and of course, Berry played it well. Touching when she discovers the letters and thrilling during the two important sequences.

4. "2012 - United Kingdom"


Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent)
Dermot Hoggins (Tom Hanks)
Denholme Cavendish (Hugh Grant)
Georgette (Ben Whishaw)
Nurse Noakes (Hugo Weaving)
Woman from Timothy's past (Susan Sarandon)
Nurse James (James D'Arcy)
Highlander (Jim Sturgess)
A party guest (Halle Berry)

                 Timothy Cavendish is an aging publisher, he is shown hosting a party given for the author. That author is Dermot Hoggins who looks pretty criminal minded. He spots a critic who panned his book, argues with him a bit and then throws him off the roof. Then Hoggins' men goes after Cavendish to demand money which he doesn't have. Cavendish calls up his brother Denholme who tricks him into voluntarily checking himself into a nursing home. Cavendish is held against his will and so are other residents. Will they get out?

                 This is where we get the most hilarious story of the movie. Right from the beginning when the party disaster happens, its all done in a pretty funny way despite how gruesome it actually looks. Things get pretty wild once the back and forth starts in the nursing home. Weaving plays a very awful nurse who makes the life of everyone there, a living hell. The escape is pretty fun and so is a certain scene in the bar. Things go in a very screwball pace, its basically the comedy of errors.

5. "2144 - Neo Seoul, Korea"


Somni-451 (Doona Bae)
Yoona-939 (Zhou Xun)
Hae-Joo Chang (Jim Sturgess)
Cavendish in the Movie (Tom Hanks)
Boardman Mephi (Hugo Weaving)
Restuarant Manager (Hugh Grant)
A doctor (Halle Berry)
An-Kor Apis (Keith David)
A street musician (Jim Broadbent)
Archivist (James D’Arcy)

                 Somni-451 like many other fabricants are made to work in a fast-food chain in a futuristic city. There, she is made to think for herself by her friend Yoona-939. She then meets Hae-Joo Chang who helps her escape in a very sci-fi Matrix-ish way and tells her all she needs to know regarding what really happens to fabricants of her kind. They both fall in love and Hae-Joo Chang who is a part of the resistance tells her to be a part of the revolution. Will she?

                 This story takes place in the future, its sci-fi and has romance plus lots of high octane action and chase sequences through the endless city. The visual effects here are top notch, everything looks amazing. The design and interiors of where they work or the outside city and its neon lit glass covered beauty. This is basically typical Wachowski what you see here. They pretty much succeeds in creating a futuristic love story with the kind of material they are often so fan of. I however was a bit and not in some major way, underwhelmed by the poor make-up job done on Jim Sturgess. They tried hard to make him look Asian and it came off as rather offensive. But its not any big of a deal, considering its a serious character and not at all a mockery of any race which people made it into one. Its just an underwhelming technical aspect and nothing more. I was very pleased by Doona Bae's performance. Perhaps she has the best character development in the movie and its basically her own performance that really shines throughout. Her shifts from being a human like robot to a robot with humanity and her excitement and wonder for the things that exists beyond her own existence is tragically touching to watch. The themes here are once again slavery, standing up for what is right and being a part of the revolution. Its clever the kind of situation they thought for the "future" as it was for the "past". And did i said that it got some superb action?

6. "2321 and 2346 - Post-Apocalyptic Setting"


Zachry (Tom Hanks)
Meronym (Halle Berry)
Somni - goddess (Doona Bae)
The village Abbess (Susan Sarandon)
Leader cannibalistic tribe (Hugh Grant)
Old Georgie (Hugo Weaving)
Zachry’s sister (Zhou Xun)
Zachry’s brother-in-law (Jim Sturgess)
A tribesman (Ben Whishaw)
The Prescients (Keith David, David Gyasi and Jim Broadbent)

                 Zachry is a tribesman living with people of his community in the post-apocalyptic world when most of the humanity has died. He has a voice inside him that bothers him a lot, you can say its the devil. The cannibals break havoc and ends up killing many, including Zachry's own brother-in-law. He is visited by Meronym who is part of a much more advanced civilization called "Prescients". When she helps him at a crucial point, he agrees to take her to a place called "Cloud Atlas", high above the mountains (which is something Zachry himself feared all his life) where she can send message to the people living in other planets. What happens in the end? Does Zachary gives in to his demons? What happens to the Cannibals? And the Prescients?

                 This is the final story that happens in a post-apocalyptic world. People live a primitive live and their language is a strange blend of many. The religion and their customs etc are different as well. We have all sorts of things here, there are cannibals and devils as well as technologically advanced civilization and people living in other planets. The encounters between people and the cannibals who are fierce and dreadful are pretty gruesome. Tom Hanks gives a very good performance here playing a role that is of a humbled but weak man and a character wrecked by the demons he have been living with. The chemistry between him and Berry still works. Their journey to the place where Meronym wants to go is one of my favorite moments in the movie. Very well done job with the effects and art direction. Note that there is a monologue and prologue that are connected with this story which i wont reveal. But the ending of course is very poignant in its own way, touching.

Review Part 2:
                              Well! those were the basic plots and what i thought about each of them individually. Talking about the whole idea of characters with similar or connected traits throughout the movie, i found it as one of the more interesting elements about the movie. It makes this all into a very grand epic of how connected we all are. The idea of energy always converting into some other form of energy that is never completely lost as it changes into different forms and it either loses or gains some specific qualities about it. You can see that there are birth marks on the people in the movie which indicates the transfer of souls into different bodies over the period of times. Which is basically reincarnation and shows how we are all connected in a grand fashion that ultimately brings the conclusion of our existence as one specific being. We all have our own lives, every one does but its been evolved and evolved throughout the times. Look at the sheer ambitiousness of the movie, its hard to put that feeling into words but this movie does that in a manner. A bold idea to put in a movie because its about the entire humanity that have ever existed and not about something specific at a specific time. That is something you can watch forever, like in a "Satantango" length film or even more. One of the reasons why the book was deemed unfilmable was due to the fact that the characters that are in it don't really have a clear track. Like you can't really make sense of their importance throughout the length, if its indicated clearly at points, you get it, if not, then you don't. In the movie however, to make that clear, the idea of same actors playing different roles was thought. Not just different roles but different genders and race etc. Some appearances are random or not quite evolved but they give a sense of inter-connectivity by their abrupt happening or their randomness. Like when Tom Hanks' character in the 2012 plot spots Hally Berry's character. Its just a random exchange of glances, like when you see someone beautiful in a party and then forget about it. The fact that these actors pair up in different stories in one way or another and then the end, makes it apparent and rather haunting how connected they are. A sense of familiarity and instant likability.

                              One of my favorite things about the movie is its brilliantly pulsating and soaring score composed by Tom Tykwer and his usual collaborators, Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek together. Its exquisitely effective in parts where it actually stands out giving a particular touch rather than that one-tone sappy tune one would have expected in a movie like this every time a "connection" was made apparent. Thankfully it avoids going for those moments. However, use of "The Cloud Atlas Sextet" particularly is something that delivers the exact opposite effect because of how wonderfully its used and how actually brilliant piece of music it is. There are different versions of it that are used in particular points like when Frobisher is performing it initially or its symphonic then later jazzy, futuristic and then hymn version. It is key to the movie and is not used for the overwrought purpose but it gives a familiar, oh-i-heard-it-somewhere feeling before you even realize that its the same but different tune. Different genres make up for vast number of different aspects in its technicality. The cinematography is always good, the art direction is glorious and visual effects are even more spectacular every time. Make up was done in ways that even puzzles me now thinking about how difficult it was to recognize different actors. As i mentioned earlier, the one make up job was done pretty lazy which bothered me a little. They are all different genres making up for different circumstances and situations for characters who still are connected in more than one ways. The idea that a person either ends up becoming more evil or even better is quite apparent. Some characters ends up being better human beings and others just stays evil and becomes even more dreadful souls. Characters played by Weaving and Grant are mostly the examples. Some stays good all along despite slight moments of doubt in their own self. Tom Tykwer for me did a better job on the portions he directed than The Wachowski's who could have tried to get out of their usual familiar funk. Its thanks to the vastness of the material that they mostly got away with it for me. Cloud Atlas features the most engaging and accurately used work of editing i have seen in a long time in a movie of its scope. The format in the book was something that would have proved very difficult for the viewers as well as very uncinematic for the movie itself. Here, you wont have to see a small portion of a particular story and then revisit it later once the entire circle is completed over the course of the movie. If it was done in that manner, you would have forgotten about the characters and their plot when they were revisited after hours. In the movie, it all happens simultaneously and it carefully shows us everything happening in a manner that is not tiring or complicated. The constant reminder proves very worthy. Amazing editing work. The momentum is brilliantly increased with time, each turn feels like a part of a constant stirring of a giant circle. The pacing is kept under check and it becomes more enjoyable and accessible that way.

                              Its nearly three hours long but the movie failed to bore me even for a minute. I never looked at the clock because i was kept on the edge. The rippling effect as you might call it never makes you wander off somewhere else, something that one would expect in a complicated looking plot like this. The mosaic is glorious to experience with each turn packs with itself, infinite possibilities, different responses and emotional effects to go with it. This is filmmaking at its best, its not just a cerebral and mental workout but the story is filled with passion and has heart that ends up surprising one with what it delivers that is usually not seen in blockbusters of its kind or modern big budget filmmaking. Actual lovers of cinema has to experience this, it packs so much in itself. A unique work of artistic brilliance that dares to do things in its own way and in a magnificently thought narrative that transcends any sort of explanation, criticism and experience that one can ever have. I don't think that its even remotely bad, many have made it out to be. This is the kind of work that once started in the mainstream cinema, things can be changed forever. But in the end, we are very narrow minded. We prefer mindless entertainment over entertainment with brains. We don't want to experience something so profoundly epic no matter how simple or complicated it is. Its a shame that people never took this movie seriously or gave it enough credit. Cloud Atlas is entertainment beyond expectations, study of human connectivity beyond emotions and is filled with so much technical brilliance that one will never get enough of thinking how they actually made it all happen.

Grade: A-