Saturday, November 3, 2012


"Cloud Atlas" is inherently polarizing in its very nature. Either you get swept up in its soaring, outlandish vision, or you don't. It's a film easy to dismiss but equally as easy to get caught up in its undeniable power and ambition. From Andy and Lana Wachowski (who arguably haven't made a decent movie since "The Matrix" and maybe "The Matrix Reloaded") and Tom Tykwer, behind the one-hit wonder "Run Lola Run," these three set out to make the epic, visionary mind-bender of the year. And to their credit, they've done exactly that.

The movie is based on the seemingly impossible to adapt 2004 novel from David Mitchell, which tells six different stories spanning between the mid-19th century and well beyond the year 2144. The movie adaptation casts the same group of actors playing different characters within each story. The main players are Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw and Jim Broadbent who all, in some cases, are not even recognizable in the role they play. Supporting them are Hugh Grant and Susan Surandon. Sometimes the actors are the centerpiece of their story, other times they're a background figure. Each story opens with a larger exposition to give some context, each serving as their own single vignette. Once introduced, however, they weave together cutting back and forth between each other with a very specific rhythm.

The success in the storytelling comes from the way the six stories, and the main roles within, work together as they spill over and ripple through the narratives. I can't imagine the road map the Wachowskis and Tykwer must've created to pull this off. Now, I could go into detail about the premise of each timeline, but it would be an effort in vain. The point is the complex tapestry of feelings that is ultimately created, how particular themes so clearly resonates freely into the next frame. The filmmakers definitely touch on something political -- big oil destroying a nation -- but I won't get into that here. Themes of freedom, justice, liberation, truth, love, loss, good and evil all perfectly sync up in the thematic telling of each story, and it has a wondrous effect. We're never set on a character for long, but in the way certain roles represent others in a different timeline, similar emotions carry over. An escape, a romantic interest, a painful death -- there's always a link. Repeated passages, phrases and one similarly-shaped birth mark command repeated viewings to follow what I can only assume are endless correlations between the six stories.

If this all seems very general, that's because it is. "Cloud Atlas" works at its best when looking at the bigger picture. It's in the details where the movie starts to fall apart. The portrayals are caricature, cartoonish even, but there's no lack in color and texture. For example, the 2144 storyline takes place in Seoul, Korea and forces actors to wear makeup making them appear more Asian. (Except for stoic and stunning Korean actress Doona Bae.) It's a weird effect, especially Jim Sturgess' use of an accent. The other future storyline has Tom Hanks and Halle Berry speaking in a strange, broken language that's nearly laughable -- not to mention almost impossible to understand. But again, those are the nit-picky details. When watching "Cloud Atlas," an overall feeling emerges, a grandiose idea of the recurring moralities of human nature, no matter when or where, or what lifetime -- history repeats itself. I urge you to see it. It's certainly not for everyone, but it also very well might be just for you.

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