Directed and Written by Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Ben Whishaw and Bae Doo-na
Synopsis - “Cloud Atlas” explores how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, the present and the future. Action, mystery and romance weave dramatically through the story as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero and a single act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution in the distant future.
My Thoughts - Before getting into Cloud Atlas, I think it’s important to make mention of the fact that I’d previously read the novel. I don’t bring that up to prove that I can read, unlike Emiliano Zapata (that’s a deep reference that maybe one person will get, but will be all that more rewarding for that one person because of that, or maybe not), but I think having read it surely has a major effect on how I perceived the film. I dug the book. What I was most taken with was the Russian nesting doll like structure and that fact that it told six very different types of stories that could all hold up on their own without the other five to prop them up. There is connective tissue, but there didn’t need to be. Neither of these virtues of the novel were carried over to the film. What was carried over was the ambition of the storytellers.
Cloud Atlas the film is very different than Cloud Atlas the novel. It’s a novel I’m not sure could be properly adapted into a single film and while I do like this film, I’m still not willing to say this is the best film we were going to get. The novel is without a doubt a better and more satisfying piece, but I still liked this film a good deal. Novel Film Novel Film blah blah blah. Read the book and now moving on.
Cloud Atlas clocks in at over two and a half hours, but I found it highly entertaining and engaging throughout. It’s quickly cutting between and setting up all six stories, which makes the first forty five minutes a bit of a confusing whirlwind, but it’s still entertaining during that time and it really settles down and gets better and better from that point on. There’s never a dull moment, not really a quiet moment either, which works as both a negative and positive. There is so much story and movie to cram into this running time that you don’t get a chance to breathe or slow down and process it all. The book obviously allowed me to be ahead of the curve, but it’s a film that is likely to be more rewarding on repeat viewings.
They may be simplistic at times and beaten over your head, but the themes and messages being put forth are strong and commendable. Cloud Atlas is a very idealistic, heartfelt and pure film. Almost the whole film is a cry for tolerance and acceptance. It glorifies idealism, preaches the nobility in fighting for equality and standing up to oppression. It’s a hopeful film that says that humans will continue to follow the awful patterns of our past unless me confront them, but you can make a difference. I’d find it very hard to actively dislike a film like this. All of this stuff is underlined beautifully by the supposedly controversial decision to have all the main actors playing characters in all six stories. White people playing Black people, women playing men, Black people playing Asians, old playing young, gay playing straight etc. Not only is it fun and a challenge for these actors, but it’s exactly what this film is all about. Race, sex, age, sexuality, none of it matters at all!
Adapting this novel was an ambitious undertaking that I really admire. The editing and ways it cuts between stories when dialogue overlaps or similar scenes are taking place in multiple stories was absolutely brilliant. All of this was masterfully laid out and executed. It’s a tight and precise film. The Wachowski’s and Tykwer really dug into these six stories and found a way to present a satisfying film that I believe very few others could achieve.
Cloud Atlas isn’t a great film and my reservations about it have a lot to do with attempting to tell six full stories in 150 minutes. Everything obviously has to be rushed. You don’t get time to get to know characters, their stories all feel bare bones and that left it often emotionally flat. In cutting it down to a film length the themes and connections between the stories were more focused, but the individual stories were all sacrificed. There were at least four very strong, fully realized stories in the novel, but they didn’t come across in the film. I don’t believe a single one could stand on its own in this film version. I also just think the Wachowski’s as directors have an inability to play things straight and real. Realism just isn’t their thing. There’s little in their past work or in Cloud Atlas that feels emotionally raw or true and it lessens the kind of impact I’d have liked.
I will say that my favorite stories in the film were the Forbisher composer storyline and the futuristic Somni-451 one. I was very disappointed in the lack of depth to the Luisa Rey 70’s political thriller one and found the insane asylum one to be pretty useless. There’s a lot that could have been done differently to have possibly made the film better (cutting non essential stories and focusing deeply on the strongest), but there is still a lot there to like.
Ben Whishaw, Doona Bae and Hugo Weaving were the acting highlights. Whishaw’s composer had the most emotionally affecting stuff, Bae had some devastating stuff in Neo Seoul and Weaving got to be a devilish villain six times over. His Georgie character was a blast.
Cloud Atlas is a big, ambitious, highly entertaining, sometimes silly, but beautiful and heartfelt film. I find anyone being dismissive and mocking toward the film to be pretty annoying. It’s flawed, but a really substantial piece. The studio kind of left it for dead, so it’ll go down as a big financial flop, but I won’t be the least bit surprised if in twenty years people are looking back on this as a classic in the way so many others in the past have been re-evaluated with time and without the economic factors in mind. Cloud Atlas is unlike any film I’ve ever seen and should be viewed by all. (read the book too)
My Rating : 7/10
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