Cloud Atlas Reviews
Good Movie! It is a movie that is a product of our age of internet-driven universal knowledge and vision, and the freedom we have to travel the world and jump between ages, genres, images and identities at our will. It reminds us that we are human and that we can still hear our heart beat, if we listen.
Everything is connected: an 1849 diary of an ocean voyage across the Pacific; letters from a composer to his lover; a thriller about a murder at a nuclear power plant; a farce about a publisher in a nursing home; a rebellious clone in futuristic Korea; and the tale of a tribe living in post-apocalyptic Hawaii, far in the future.
What we get are six interconnected stories set during different time periods, and done in the style of different genres (romance, sci-fi, costume drama, post-apocalyptic adventure, etc). The ensemble cast play multiple roles, often as characters of different ages, races, and genders, and some play the same type of part in each story, though with others there are bits of shared traits, and a few of the actors have their own developing arcs with the different characters they play, namely with Tom Hanks's many roles.
There are many threads of continuity between the stories, but, in broad strokes, the main themes, ideas, and lessons are tolerance, being a good and decent person, and how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, present, and future.
I really have to give everyone involved credit for just getting this thing made. It's weighty, complex, pretentious, and a bit of a mess, but it's also daringly bold, creative, and thought provoking. Oh, and there's some originality as well, even though, like everything else. there's shreds of familiarity all over the place, too.
This is a long film, and it was a bit of a problem for me. My attention was kept for a lot of it, but once I figured out the basics of what this was about (the big lesson) about an hour into it, the rest just seemed to cruise on by. Granted, I still had the fun job of trying to pick out who was playing what character in each part, and how it all tied together, but still. The Fountain did a lot of what this does, but more compact, and in less time. Yet, I'm giving this one a better rating because I think this one earns it by really going all in. And, I also found this one a little easier to a'get" than Aronofsky's film.
From a technical perspective, this film is quite an achievement. The visuals, cinematography, costumes, set design, and art direction are all top notch. The make-up and effects work are to be commended as well, though some of it is a bit iffy and laughable at times. But, you can't really fault them too much for wanting to be ambitious.
The cast is quite good, and we get to see a lot of heavy lifting from the likes of Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, and Hugh Grant among others. Most of the performances are really good and varied, though some of them aren't varied enough, and aren't giving as good as they could have been (namely Susan Sarandon).
I could probably go on about this one for a while, but I won't. Admittedly, I'm still trying to process this, and am not quite sure how I really feel, but for now, I do think this is a good film, and it is worth seeing. Just keep an open mind, and be willing to pay attention.
The movie's theme concerns fighting the future, that the future isn't predetermined and those seemingly small details in one era are picked up in subsequent eras. I, however, don't believe that we are moving inexorably toward a "soylent-green" type totalitarian future- unanimity by force and genetic design. I also don't buy the proposition that corporations are evil, and we must depend on muckraking journalists and conscientious bureaucrats. Cloud Atlas features some moving performances, but its didactic theme and epic scope undoes it for me. It tries too hard to be visionary, both in visual and literary senses, but it succeeds in being a $102 million conspiracy theory.
Conceptually this film looks like the making of a great and unique experience, but in execution 'Cloud Atlas' is a complete mess, but it is not without merit. On a visual level the film is very gorgeous, with great cinematography to boast and solid costume designs to fit the time period each story takes place in. The star-studded cast plays multiple roles across each of the narratives (a ploy by The Wachowskis to further imprint the karma theme) with varying degrees of success. Tom Hanks pulls off every role he is given in the film and Hugo Weaving still manages to be mesmerizing despite being regulated to cliché villain roles. Ben Wishaw gives the most memorable performance as a bisexual musician in the 1930's narrative that plays out like a compelling indie drama (the best story in the whole film). Everybody else was just okay or barely registered.
At its best, the film is unique in seamlessly juggling its multiple narratives in exhilarating ways. However, more often than not it can be plodding and emotionally un-involving. None of the individual stories deliver anything new in their respective genres (the Neo-Seoul narrative lifts the plot twist to 'Soylent Green') and the characters are often lacking in intriguing development. Another major detractor from the film is the make-up, which tends to be distractingly bad at points. This causes the film to become laughable in the Neo-Seoul sequences where white actors are made to look Asian (they look like burn victims). Plus despite the multi-leveled narrative, the overall message (Love conquers all) is terribly basic considering the pretentious three-hour build-up.
In the end, 'Cloud Atlas' feels like The Wachowskis made it for the sole purpose of proving it can be done. Ambition is great, but execution is just as key if not more important in the art of filmmaking.
The film is very much like 'A.I.' in my opinion, the reason being I'm sure it will split opinions right down the middle. I can well understand people loving the film but I can well understand people disliking the film for various reasons. There is a lot to take in and at almost 3 hours the film could come across as hard work.
So in case you don't know the film is basically like an old Tarantino concept, in other words its six different stories that are all woven into one, kinda. The stories are set over a vast time span from the 18th Century, the 30's, the 70's, the present day, early 22nd Century and the early 24th Century. I will give a brief little review for each section without trying to ruin the plots for you hehe.
1. The mid 18th Century, an American lawyer travels to the Chatham Islands (Pacific Ocean, southeast of New Zealand) to conclude business for his father-in-law. This story is set around black slavery and is probably the most predictable really. The sequences look realistic, rustic and lavish with a stunning old sea galleon and some tremendous location visuals. But to be honest this tale was rather average, much time is spend on the ship watching the main character 'Ewing' die slowly, but the moral of the story is obviously a good one.
2. Mid 30's UK, a bisexual young man works as an amanuensis for an old composer. The tale is set around a homosexual relationship and how (in this era) that could destroy a man's career and life. Easily the most bold and emotional section of the film simply because you don't often see gay relations like this in major films and it paints a taboo subject in a good light, somewhat. Ben Whishaw's role as the bisexual young man is (for me) the best performance of the film by far, the same can be said for James D'Arcy as 'Sixsmith' his lover. Again everything looks period perfect, the costumes are glorious and Broadbent's nasty blackmailing composer rounds off this story flawlessly.
3. 1973, California and this is Keith David's 'Shaft' moment. A journalist is trying to uncover the true facts behind the safety of a new nuclear reactor run by its shady US owner played by...Hugh Grant?. Again I must give kudos for the visuals here, costumes, cars, sets, props etc...its all very 70's. Unfortunately this story looks like a bog standard US cops/detective TV show, you half expect 'Starsky and Hutch' to pull up. On top of that its acted and played out like a crummy bog standard US cop TV show, was that the idea?, guess it was.
4. Present day, almost, 2012, UK. An aging book publisher comes into the money big time when his current author kills a critic. The author happens to be a local criminal gangster, thusly his actions sends his book soaring up the charts making tonnes of cash. A tale of two halves this one, firstly you have what I just described, then when this gangster sends his men after 'Cavendish' the publisher for their share of the profits, he must escape into hiding. What follows is a kind of twisted 'Roald Dahl' type children's fairytale as 'Cavendish' is tricked into an old age home from hell.
Broadbent once again in a tour de force of acting really nails this character perfectly with his typically eccentric British oddball looks. A kind of dark comedy this story, mostly narrated by Broadbent but with wonderful performances by a cast of pensioners and also from Weaving as the evil 'Nurse Noakes'...that character is so 'Roald Dahl-like' its untrue. A little gem this one, quite amusing with some terrific facial expressions and visual tomfoolery from Broadbent.
'is this some sort of kinky S&M hotel?!'
5. Set in a dystopian futuristic totalitarian state in Korea, the year is 2144. Clones are used for manual labour in various roles/jobs but are treated badly, like slaves. This story is told as an account by one clone in custody after her massive ordeal with a rebel movement set against the bad treatment of clones. By far the most exciting story in the film and easily the section where the Wachowski's love of sci-fi really shines through, you can tell its them.
We've all seen 'The Matrix' (right?!), well here you can see that influence breaking through. That's not a bad thing I must stress, this short story could easily be a film in its own right, the characters are really good very intriguing, the visuals are stunning, I LOVED Neo Seoul and its blue neon highways! and the action is superb. The plot is kinda over used and cliched but it works well, you get behind 'Sonmi' the clone, you want her to succeed even though you already know what happens. Naturally comparisons to other sci-fi films are inevitable, 'Blade Runner' and 'I Robot' springs to mind right off the bat, but that doesn't detract from this excellent future set tale of a police state set in the wild East.
6. The year 2321 and it appears mankind has be almost wiped out. What is left are small tribes of people living on an island (Hawaii) in primitive conditions. There are also other tribes of people who have turned to cannibalism it seems and other people that somehow remain in touch with modern technology. This is the story that bookends the film, it is also one of the weakest in my opinion as its a typically silly sci-fi post apocalyptic story that raises many questions. Once again I can't say anything bad about the location visuals or acting but its just daft.
Why would some people choose to live like primitives, some people choose to go about eating people, whilst all the while you could still live with modern technology, medicines, clothes, proper order etc...Did anyone else notice these folk all talked like 'Jar Jar Binks'??! the hallucinations of 'Zachery', the main character, aren't really explained, the cannibals are primitive like the rest but they have metal crossbows? etc..
All these short stories are interwoven amongst themselves throughout the entire film. This is admittedly one of the films issues as I'm sure some will feel confused and lost whilst trying to keep up with each tale. There are so many characters throughout, plus the fact that the actors play multiple characters in every story does make the film hard to follow at times. You find yourself trying to recall who plays who, or trying not to get mixed up with characters played by the same people in different stories. All the characters in the stories are reincarnated versions of their previous lives which we are seeing in each century/each story. So in some stories they are bad in some they are neutral etc...I'm not overly sure if their actions are suppose to effect the next incarnation though, or maybe redeem themselves in certain aspects, cos Weaving plays a bad guy all the way through...I think.
Despite that anyone can see the powerful performances by the cast in this. I like Hugo Weaving as an actor very much and I can't fault the guy here, he plays mostly nasty pieces of work but damn it he's so flippin good. As mentioned Jim Broadbent is on fire, the guy can do no wrong, he's like an ugly version of Anthony Hopkins (no disrespect Jim). Still unsure why they would cast Grant in some odd choice roles, an all American company boss?!, a heavy?!!! (thug) and the cannibal chief! wouldn't be my choice.
An odd entity really, you wouldn't think it was a Wachowski film (accept for the sci-fi bit) and the stories range from excellent to mundane. I found myself not really caring about certain plots and wanting them to spin on so we could get back to the more thrilling plots. I must also add that despite the effects and CGI being very very good throughout, the makeup on various characters is actually pretty bad haha. Using the same actors for various roles in various settings means people had to look Korean, Caucasian, female, old, bald, have different hair, coloured contacts etc...lets just say some times the actors looked good, sometimes like looked scary.
On the whole I enjoyed this epic story telling immensely, didn't think I would but I did. The film does appear to be quite politically correct also in some stories when you think about it (homosexual relations, multicultural relations...the future of the human race in the final tale) and to be honest it does drag. There are plenty of times when you think the film is gonna end, maybe it should, but it doesn't, it goes ooooon.
If this were indeed Spielberg then I'm sure some would say its close to a masterpiece, I don't think it is, for now, but its pretty close. The sheer amount of work and time to bring all this together is impressive, on top of that its a bloody good looking film with great acting. Thing is it may well take a few viewings to get to grips with it, I must admit to having to use the films (and novels) wiki to recap on all the stories. In time this could well be a classic.
Apart from a few key decisions the direction is stellar. Taking such a behemoth containing six different story lines and doing each story justice whilst piecing them together in a way that allows them to unravel together must have been a headache from conception to the editing bay. Yet, somehow the filmmakers make it seem effortless. Like the Cloud Atlas sextet in the film, it takes master composers to make disparate pieces move in concert.
My main gripe with the film is the decision to have the actors play different characters in each of the story lines. Not only did it lead to horrendously comical make-up decisions & some actors visible uncomfortable in certain roles, but it only further drove home the message that the script was already gently cramming down our throats. Who we are and the decisions that we make are bigger than us & reverberate throughout the ages. A beautiful message that is unfortunately & nauseatingly reinforced throughout the entire film.
The message of Mitchell's book is more elusive, granted that may be because in a novel you are allowed to let the material breathe more. However, while the Watchowskis ratchet up the accessibility they lose the power of self-discovery that comes with this story. A good therapist should never tell one what to do or how to feel, but rather inspire one to feel. And what are movies but a little $10 therapy?
While I may have overall respected the film more than enjoyed watching it, I was never bored during it's nearly three hour running time. Something that on it's own is a cause for celebration.
The transitions between the stories are poetic and seamless, the only pity at times being the unevenness of said stories. The recurring theme of freedom takes many forms, across many a scale, but Broadbent's old age home escape, while adding humour and lightness, distracts.
I didn't feel the near 3 hour runtime, and I'm in complete admiration of this massive undertaking being realised so well.
1849: a Pacific ocean voyage that unearths a stowaway slave.
1936: an inspirational composition of classical music in Edinburgh.
1973: a manuscript that invites a dangerous conspiracy in San Francisco.
2012: a publisher goes into hiding in a nursing home fearing for his life.
2144: a totalitarian regime in futuristic Korea gives birth to a rebellious clone.
2321: a post-apocalyptic Hawaii that's leads to the cosmos...
These are the six stories that connect life, the universe and everything as past, present and future interlace with another and humankind struggle to make sense of their existence.
What better way to tell a story than to begin it in the ancient way? An old man sitting around a campfire with scars on his face and wisdom on his tongue. That's exactly what the trio of directors Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer have done and it sets the perfect opening to an expansive, spectacular and hugely ambitious and visual storytelling adventure. It's so vast and labyrinthine that it's hard to even begin to break it down. It works on so many levels; from the metaphorical to allegorical, as well as, the tangential and does so while setting it in six different centuries (from the 19th to the 24th) and having the same actors play several different roles throughout. It's difficult to find your feet and it could take at least an hour before you even get a hint or actually begin to grasp anything that's going on. Once the narrative strands do come together, though, the film becomes a completely immersive experience.
It poses questions as to the meaning of our existence and the direct relation we have to one another and whether our experiences in life are just luck or predestined by means of Karma, reincarnation or simply through a greater, unknown, connection within the universe. In other words, it explores the complex questions and search for answers that have been pondered from time immemorial. It also incorporates the influence of art, television and how easily deities can be constructed and how, essentially, humankind is their own worst enemy. There will certainly be more questions than answers throughout this journey but what this film does, is run with life's conundrums, meanwhile freeing itself from narrative conventions and hits you from six different angles all at once. It really is astoundingly complex stuff.
Now, I don't profess to understand Cloud Atlas in it's entirety. I did manage to get a reasonably good handle on it's elaborate tapestry but it's a film that requires, at least, a couple of viewings to fully grasp. The utmost patience and concentration is essential and if you happen to switch off for a second - throughout it's almost three hour long running time - then it will, ruthlessly, leave you behind. You have been warned: this film will pickle your brain for weeks. It has confounded many; so much so, that it's been written off as disappointing or a pretentious mess. I, on the other hand, strongly believe that it should not be ignored. The only drawbacks I found were the tenuous linking between a couple of the stories and the tone of the film shifted a little uneasily in places. Nevertheless, this is one of the most ambitious, intelligent and beautifully constructed film's for quite some time and, if invested in, will bring many rewards.
I don't know why I'd choose to paraphrase at this point other than to sum up this film (and my review) by leaving you with the words of a wiser fellar than myself: "I guess that's the way the whole durned human comedy keeps perpetuatin' it-self, down through the generations, westward the wagons, across the sands a time until - aw, look at me, I'm ramblin' again... Catch ya further on down the trail".