Movie Review: “Cloud Atlas”
By: Jonah Lang
After sitting in the theater for three hours at the premiere, “Cloud Atlas” has struck me as movie that not only expends itself on the theme of self-identity and consequence, it also explores the longevous nature of love and hate. I had not heard much about the film in the first place, so the trailers are a bit misleading as to what this hydra of a tale is. “Cloud Atlas“ is the story of the ripple in pond that the casted stone forms. Adapted from the novel written by David Mitchell, the story had been considered “unfilmable”. But with the progressive minds of the Wachowskis (Andy and Lana) and Tom Twyker, Atlas becomes something that I can say I have never seen before.
“Cloud Atlas” is the grouping of six, subtly related life journeys, scattered throughout the better half of a millennia. These perspectives include a lawyer who befriends an African slave during the 19th century, a promising homosexual pianist of the early 1900s, a young muckraker of the ’70s, a bumbling present-day publisher, a human fabrication from a corrupt neon-glistened 2144 and a colonist of a distant world (during some discernible time beyond the 22nd century). As divergent as this collection sounds, these extended anecdotes are connected in many remarkable ways.
First of all, each protagonist inadvertently leaves something that later goes on to inspire the protagonist of the next generation, leading to key events in the overall plot. Also, the cast is bound together by comet-like birthmarks on random parts of their bodies. They carry on a symbolic nature of “lapping” or “meeting again”. And what most intrigued me, the leading cast of the film, (Tom Hanks (“Forrest Gump”), Halle Berry (“Monster’s Ball”), Jim Broadbent (“Harry Potter”), Hugo Weaving (“V for Vendetta”), Jim Sturgess (“Across the Universe”), Doona Bae (“The Host”), and Ben Whishaw (“I’m Not There”), has a significant role in each of the six time periods, meaning that the actors are recycled. For example, Tom Hanks plays six different characters, one for each of the six stories.
Yes, this movie was quite a bit to follow. With six realities the audience needs to keep track of, the 180th minute seems to linger. I felt strained, as I was constantly attempting to tie together all the pieces of the plots, only to find that the constant plot jumping scrambles them up again. The movie works in cycles, having peaks and troughs in the plot. There were points where I believed that I was going to finally find out what all these different characters had to do with one another, with a strike-up in the music and montage-like screen shifting suggesting as much, only to be teased with one of the films many explicit sex and gore scenes.
The acting behind the core cast was a lot of fun to watch, whereas the acting for the rest of the cast was a bit lacking. One of my favorite performances came from Hugo Weaving (better known as Mr. Smith from another Wachowski epic, “The Matrix”) playing a role of antagonism for the majority of the film, ranging from a cold-blooded assassin by the name of “Bill Smoke”, to the embodiment of Hanks’ fear, know as Old Georgie. While he doesn’t always play the bad guy, Weaving is very good at it, so it is always a pleasure to see what he does best.
I found it equally as pleasing to watch Halle Berry’s many relationships with Tom Hanks develop as I did watching that of Ben Whishaw (as Robert Frobisher) and James D’Arcy (under the name Sixmuth during these sequences). Both were believable and genuine. Not everyone will be accepting of the homosexual relationship in the film, but it has its place. Personally, the movie really would lose an important, progressive feature without their affair.
I received the impression that the music is what defined the much of the moods, even more so than what was actually happening on-screen. The “Cloud Atlas Sextet” serves as a theme, and is played throughout the entire film, never once getting stale. With the piece supposedly being composed by the pianist, Whishaw’s Frobisher, the music of the movie was what I found to hold all of these different personas together, therefore integrating it on several levels. It is arranged perfectly for the films most beautiful points, and its most twisted and disturbing ones. Its piano melody is emotional, organic, and absolutely riveting.
My thoughts at the end of the three-hour epic were of slight disappointment, however, as the movie just seems to end, rather than wrapping everything up into a neat package. The audience is left with many questions that lie in between these different times, several of which ponders the necessity of Jim Broadbent’s antics as Timothy Cavendish. But for its emotional value, this film is absolutely stunning. I had never been exposed to such a range of fear, joy, love, anger and pain in one film. And for that, I believe “Cloud Atlas” stands alone. For those who are skeptical, experience this movie. It is a movie that should be commended for its attempt to cross so many boundaries that many Hollywood directors stand behind, (*cough cough*, Michael Bay).