Cloud Atlas review

Review Ron Hogan 29 Oct 2012 - 06:42

The massively ambitious cinematic adaptation of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas wins more than it loses, argues Ron...

I cannot possibly put together the plot of Cloud Atlas in any reasonable format in a few paragraphs, so I'm going to skip over the usual 'this is what the movie's about, these are the main characters' stuff and just leap right into the film itself. There is a reason Cloud Atlas was described as unfilmable, and why directors the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer had to work so hard to get the financing, cast, and crew needed to get the film off the ground. It stretches across decades, from the trans-Pacific voyage of a merchant to a post-apocalyptic island wasteland in which savages struggle for survival against the twin forces of nature and one another, all the while making a grand point about human nature in the process.

Across time, tenuous threads connect disparate lovers. Those threads? Stories, of course. The shipboard tales of Andy Ewing (Jim Sturgess) inspire the music of Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) the music of Frobisher extends through his lover Rufus Sixsmith (James D'Arcy) to the modern day and intrepid journalist Luisa Rey (Halle Berry), and so on through Neo Seoul and the empowered replicant Sonmi 451 (Doona Bae) and the savage remains of humanity in the form of half-feral goat farmer Zachry (Tom Hanks) and his family of tribesmen. These expressions of the human condition unite us all, and everything we feel and do has been felt and done by generations immemorial.

Cloud Atlas is a visually stunning work of art. The movie's multiple settings are all wonderfully rendered, and each is instantly recognizable after only a few frames. You can tell the Wachowskis are involved at several points, particularly in the special effects-heavy Neo Seoul. It's very stylish and they build an effective, interesting world. In fact, all of the movie's settings feel epic, and are shot accordingly. Even 70s era San Francisco feels epic, in spite of the grime. This is an absolutely gorgeous movie.

Perhaps more impressive than even the scenery is the makeup. Using the same cast members for a multitude of roles is always a dicey proposition, but the makeup is what sells it. Unlike the old-age makeup in, say, J. Edgar, the makeup in Cloud Atlas is staggeringly well executed. Characters cross ages, genders, races, and technological barriers with ease and look brilliant in the process. Tom Hanks in one storyline looks completely different than Tom Hanks in a different storyline, and the same can be said for all the other actors in the film. If this movie doesn't win multiple technical Oscars, I will be greatly surprised.

The acting choices are also skillful. This is an all-star cast in every sense of the word. While some choices, and some of Tom Hanks' accents, don't work, that's to be expected when you play six different roles in a movie, alternating three or four of them within a week of shooting. Hugo Weaving plays a great devil in Old Georgie, Hugh Grant plays an excellent sleazy businessman, Hanks is never not good, and James D'Arcy has what might be the toughest role in playing the young and old versions of Rufus Sixsmith. Still, in a cast full of brilliant performers and performances, the real stand-out is Doona Bae, who ties the whole thing together as the replicant Soonmi 451. She's the face of this film, and she provides the performance that drives the movie's ultimate point home.

While Cloud Atlas is an impressive achievement in film making, and a surprisingly effective adaptation of that which is not able to be adapted, it's not a perfect picture by any means. For the first 30 minutes or so, I had a great deal of difficulty keeping track of what was going on in the various storylines. Even after the first hour or two, I had to wonder what exactly the point of the film was. While it all ties together beautifully at the end, it can be a difficult journey to undertake. It's wonderful, and the weaker segments are easily supported by the superior segments (the literary agent, Neo Seoul). I have no doubt that the Wachowskis and Tykwer saved as much as they could from David Mitchell's novel.

Cloud Atlas is, nonetheless, nearly three hours long, and I'm not sure if there's any way things could have been cut from the movie without ruining it. Indeed, if anything, an extended cut on the video release might be a positive in fleshing the film out more fully; a chronological cut would also be nice, if only to make it easier to keep up with. I feel that Cloud Atlas may be a film that warrants further viewing upon its home video release, if only because there's so much detail that smaller things had to have been missed on the big screen.

However, for all its flaws, Cloud Atlas is still a brave attempt and a successful adaptation of the impossible novel. It's long, and it can be difficult, but it's worthwhile. The acting is brilliant, the team of the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer acquit themselves very well, and the editing is deft. It should not be nearly as successful as it is, and that's a credit to the drive and desire of the filmmakers. If you have the nearly three hours to spare, give Cloud Atlas a chance. It may never make complete sense if you try to connect the parts together, but what about life makes sense? It's an experience. Enjoy it.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan now wants to track down the book Cloud Atlas is based on. He is also once again impressed by Tom Hanks. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.


Disqus - noscript

Good to hear positive things about this film. I don't think it's exactly my cup of tea if i'm honest, but we do need this 'big idea' sci-fi (if it can be defined by that) movies to keep being made. I just hope it shows the big studios that there is more of an audience out there beyond 15 years old American kids.

The book sucked ass, the film will suck it too.

Cracking stuff

You can't fool me, I've seen photos of that dodgy Korean/Vulcan make-up.

I think I saw a different version of this movie than the reviewer. I spent the whole time going what?? When is this going to connect together?? Never got an answer. Left the theatre afterwards relieved that it was over, with a numb bum and utterly bewildered as to what I just witnessed. Thinking really?? I have a graduate degree but I'm too stupid to figure out a Hugh Grant movie??

My advice: keep your money in your pocket and spend the almost 3 hours it takes to get through this movie doing something more enjoyable. Like a root canal without anaesthesia. I'll give them this, the makeup was pretty wicked. Not wicked enough for 3 hours of torture though.

The book definitely did not "suck ass", it certainly requires a little more from the reader in order to keep 6 different stories, told in 6 different writing style/narrative, to somehow come together as one complete novel.

Since I've read the book before watching the movie, it wasn't confusing at all. In fact, they've stuck to the original novel almost bang-on (except for minor details). However, it is probably a different experience to first watch the movie then read the novel...(think Blade Runner vs. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). The 6 individual stories were a lot more shuffled around in the movie than the original novel, hence the confusion and the 3 hour play time. I think it was a conscious decision of the Wachoskis & Tom Twyker to cut back and forth between stories in order for the climax & ending of each individual story to overlap simultaneously. The novel just divided up each story into 2 separate part, and each with a different narrative style...

I do like the movie, however, some of the execution was lacking (ie. context driven narrative, make-up, characterization, cinematography to name a few). But still, it is probably more cerebral than anything out there these day.

My interpretation of the movie was that it was all about the recurring darkness of human nature (primarily its tendency to devalue human life in pursuit of profit). We have the plight of a freed slave being rescued by a man who is being slowly murdered by his doctor for his money, then the 70's story of many people being murdered for money, Then an elderly publisher who unwittingly signs away his freedom to an institution making money by imprisoning its elderly residents. The penuitimate (chronologically) story is the resurgence of the worst form of trade, slavery. With the mass production of fabricated slaves. The final tale involves no money to speak of, but the savagery and lack of respect for human life is plain. Through each story, through each era, the duality of human nature is made clear. For while there is surely darkness, there is also hope. And there are those who yearn for freedom, for a better life.

"Cloud Atlas" is the name of the new movie
from the Wachowisks (and of the book in which is based upon) which
literally means a sort of book about types of clouds. 12 years after
'Matrix', they deliver once again a story aligned with our technological development: the data cloud.

The current "cloud" is a four-dimensional information environment, a
quantum system where everything is stored without linearity of time: a
past information can be accessed and a future one be altered by a simple
interaction with the cloud in the present (delete a file in your
Dropbox and all the information structure of the cloud is changed

But this is just a small simulacrum of the greater cloud that the film
speaks about, "the karmic cloud" that we are all part of. And is in the
middle of this cloud of karmic relationships (cause and effect), with no
beginning nor end, without past or future, that the theater of our
lives comes alive in each one of the infinite presents, and where by
every act of interference (conscious or unconscious) we have the full
power (free will) to affect, change and transform the entire system in
real time (in the now).

By stepping into an unknown journey
which is life without the guidance of a set of maps, an 'atlas'
(knowledge) to guide us to the 'actual experience' (enlightenment,
realization or awakening) that we all inhabit the same existential
system where 'we are all one at one time' (one consciousness), we end up
relating ourselves with the cloud in a wrongly way, seeking in its
content the very meaning of our existence.

(In the story, which
interweaves six different tales, this knowledge comes in the form of
the 'Cloud Atlas Sextet', a sextet for overlapping soloists: piano,
clarinet, 'cello, flute, oboe, and violin, each in its own language of
key, scale, and color.)

This ignorance of the unity off all
things then creates the illusion of separation (me and you, yours and
mine) and gives rise to all sorts of fears and desires and the
consequent need to control them through manipulation, guilt, coercion
and abuse - towards our own selves and others - which inevitably results
in the generation of suffering - individual and collective (they never
actually happen separately).

And thus we 'reborn'.

Unaware that our true nature is always and essentially complete, free, immortal and infinite.

Lost in the midst of clouds without actually knowing that we are the sky that holds up everything.


"Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others.
Past and present. And by each crime, and every kindness, we birth our
future. "

- Sonmi-451, the fragile recyclable clone born as an 'empty vessel with
no free will' created to serve 'humans' processed fake food, is the one
who awakens from the 'sleep' of ignorance and transcends the experience
of limited existence. Free, now she can consciously chooses to accept
the role of continuing serving humanity, but this time as a powerful
'vehicle' for the 'true truth': the oneness of everything and everyone.


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