Drama, mystery, action and enduring love thread through a single story that unfolds in multiple timelines over the span of 500 years. Characters meet and reunite from one life to the next. Born and reborn.
As the consequences of their actions and choices impact one another through the past, the present and the distant future, one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and a single act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.
Everything is connected.
Cloud Atlas is an ambitious, genre-crossing epic from the dream-team filmmaking alliance of Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix creators, billed as Andy and Lana Wachowski since Laurence is now Lana). The film is actually six different stories, set centuries apart, that run concurrently. The earliest is the story of a stowaway slave on a ship in 1849. The next is about a young musician who aligns himself with an older, more established composer in 1936 Europe. Another tale features a reporter in 1973 San Francisco who is investigating a potentially unsafe nuclear power plant. A modern story tells about an elderly man who gets confined to an old age home against his will. The next goes to the year 2144 to "Neo Seoul," a city near the drowned city of Seoul in Korea where a genetically manufactured clone is helped to rebel against her creators by a human who has fallen in love with her. Finally, there is a distantly futuristic post-apocalyptic tale about a scavenger tribe of humans who, constantly terrorized by a cannibalistic group, are visited by a stranger who can help them survive - for a price.
Cloud Atlas was written for the screen by Andy and Lana Wachowski with Tom Tykwer from the novel by David Mitchell. The stories do not run chronologically, instead jumping back and forth between one another and unfolding together. The segments all have pretty much the same cast, including heavyweights like Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump), Halle Berry (Monster's Ball), Hugo Weaving (V for Vendetta), Susan Sarandon (Thelma & Louise) and Hugh Grant (Notting Hill), playing multiple roles in the different stories. It's not as much of a mess as it sounds; on the contrary, it actually makes perfect sense in the context of the whole. The film is masterfully edited so that the common themes in the stories weave together seamlessly, and even the character's voiceover narration from one segment will tend to guide the audience into a scene from another. Similar scenes fall into place together within their respective storylines (car chases coincide with car chases in other time periods, as do love scenes and fight scenes), and what at first appears to be a collection of unrelated shorts that are mashed together is soon revealed to be a vast entangled web of experiences and events.
Cloud Atlas requires a bit of a commitment from the viewer. Clocking in at just less than three hours, it is not only long but heavy, deep and complex. It requires attention, and a casual audience may find themselves lost between the expansive ensemble of characters and the extensive time periods involved. But, for those with some patience and an appreciation for beautiful filmmaking, Cloud Atlas is a very rewarding experience.
The cast in Cloud Atlas is remarkable. Not only does every performer play multiple roles (most of the big names have parts, albeit small, in all six segments), but the differences in genre and time period test each actors skills to the fullest. For example, Halle Berry plays two African American characters, two Indian characters and one rich Jewish character. Hugo Weaving even plays a Nurse Ratched-esque woman in the convalescent home segment. For many of the roles the actors are caked in makeup and prosthetics as well; Hugh Grant is in all six parts and is only recognizable as himself in the 1970s blacksploitation one. The entire ensemble has a field day, but Tom Hanks really stands out. His roles range from the lead in the post-apocalyptic section to a short cameo in the modern day area, and he is great whenever he is onscreen. Hanks and Berry are even forced to fumble through some seriously questionable dialect in the post-apocalyptic tale, and they not only pull it off, they own it. Even with tons of costuming and makeup hiding their faces and bodies, the experienced cast of Cloud Atlas manages to turn in memorable performances that add to the breathtaking imagery.
The best way to describe Cloud Atlas is visually stunning. Every little detail of the filmmaking is meticulous, from the locations and sets to the special effects and makeup. The directors divided up the segments with Tykwer taking 1936, 1973 and 2012, while the Wachowskis handled 1849 and the two futuristic storylines. Each segment has its own look and feel, which is part of what makes Cloud Atlas so impressive. The 1849 slave ship segment is reminiscent of "Roots," while the 1936 musical story channels Amadeus. The 1973 nuclear plant section has a seventies blacksploitation vibe to it and the 2012 part is almost slapstick comedy. The 2144 tale is very Blade Runner meets The Matrix while the other future narrative is similar to The Road (2009). These stylistic differences help the viewer keep the different storylines straight but also serve as a snapshot of the time period that each segment is capturing. The segments in Cloud Atlas are different enough to get their respective points across but similar enough to keep from making the film look schizophrenic and choppy. As different as the filmic choices are, everything still looks like it belongs in the same movie. The directors undertook a huge task with Cloud Atlas, but the end product succeeds admirably at what it sets out to do - it is an amazing, genre-bending example of modern filmmaking.
Drama, Science Fiction, Fantasy
October 26, 2012