Cloud Atlas (2012)
Director: Tom Tykwer, Andy & Lana Wachowski
Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Zhou Xun, Susan Sarandon
Plot: An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.
Genre: Drama / Sci-Fi
Awards: Nom. for 1 Golden Globe - Best Original Score
Rating: M18 for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
“We cross and re-cross our old paths like figure-skaters.”
Every moviegoer is bound to be curious about Cloud Atlas. It lasts nearly three hours, has a restrictive M18 rating, and stars an ensemble cast spearheaded by Tom Hanks and Halle Berry. It is also a huge Hollywood production with a budget that it may recoup, but unlikely to make a profit on.
It is also the most ambitious film of 2012, and while it is a mammoth undertaking, it is a project that has translated rather well from text to screen. Based on the novel by David Mitchell, the screen version of Cloud Atlas disregards the book structure of having the six stories told in a specific order, turning it into one massive tale with six interwoven narratives.
Of course, the medium of film allows that luxury of parallel editing where the stories occur as if they subscribe to the theory of alternate universes. The filmmakers have done quite an impressive job making sure that audiences won’t be confused by the inter-cutting of the narratives.
However, it can be very easy to get confused if you don’t pay attention to the characters. Hanks and Berry play six different characters in the film. The rest of the cast play in between three to seven characters. Your head will be messed up trying to figure out who’s playing who. Don’t bother trying. Just have a general understanding of the kinds of characters that adorn each narrative. It will come clear to you during the end credits, which you ought to stay for.
The Wachowskis (The Matrix, 1999) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, 1998) have delivered a fairly entertaining film despite its lengthy runtime. There are moments of genuine promise, but they don’t quite reach the heights of the best of cinema this year. The inter-cutting of narratives can be both pleasurable and frustrating, though thankfully not always at the same time.
The payoff is not exactly satisfying, but all the narratives achieve sufficient closure. In any case, Cloud Atlas just doesn’t seem thought-provoking enough. The filmmakers challenge us with their visuals and production design, but the film’s socio-political themes while plainly obvious are given little room to be explored.
Cloud Atlas is certainly ambitious, not only in terms of its cinematic structure, vision, and execution, but of its exploration of universal themes of life and death, love and hate, and hope and loss. These themes literally transcend across time and space, giving an epic scope that unfortunately feels disconnecting. In other words, the film is an excellent case of the sum being much less than its parts.
Mick LaSalle of San Francisco Chronicle calls the film a “dance of good and evil over time” despite its weaknesses. See it for its scope, not for its impact. Or it could be fun to play the ‘Can you spot Hugo Weaving?’ game.
Verdict: This multi-narrative epic is ambitious and admirable, but the payoff is not exactly satisfying.
GRADE: B- (7/10 or 3 stars)
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