Cloud Atlas

Robert Frobisher: "A half-finished book is, after all, a half finished love affair."

I can see why the film-makers tried to explain this movie in a 5 minute-plus trailer. Still I can't imagine any synopsis would work for this labyrinth of a story. I remember distinctly thinking that the historical parts of this movie would be dull, and I would only really like the stuff set in the future. I was absolutely wrong.

Adapted from a book of the same name, Cloud Atlas is an epic masterpiece written and directed by the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run). It was rich in powerful imagery, and deeply compelling drama involving various aspects of the human condition. From what I understand, this is a completely different beast from the book. The narrative structure was altered to weave the six separate stories into one intertwining wonder. The fact that it works as well as it does, is a testament to the year they spent on writing the script. I'm not sure if anyone could've made this movie without loving the source material, the commitment required would've been daunting to say the least. The tonal differences between the six time periods were extremely well thought out. We got everything from pulp mystery, to sci-fi epic in the same movie. Yet despite how complicated and detail rich the film is, I was never lost.

It helps that all the actors were absolutely superb. From the minor bits to the main parts, everyone brought their a-game and it shows. Tom Hanks stands out as pretty wonderful, and I haven't really liked him in anything since Big. But he wasn't the only one that was excellent. Jim Broadbent was simply marvelous, Halle Berry was luminous, Doona Bae was subtle and tragic, Hugo Weaving was brutal and awesome as several different villains, and I could keep going. Hugh Grant, James D'Arcy, Susan Sarandon, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, David Gyasi, and Jim Sturgess who was great in two major roles. Yet what's really interesting is that all of those actors portrayed several characters each, and most of them did at least a bit part in drag.

Which brings me to the overwhelming amount of make-up done in this movie. Some of which was so well done that I had to blink a few times to recognize the familiar face underneath. Unfortunately because of the sheer amount of make-up effects done, a few were not quite as good. This is probably because they chose to use so many actors multiple times, which bridged the story in really special ways, but created some slightly uncomfortable looks. The worst of which was done on Doona Bae, who has an interesting face with very large eyes. At one point she is made to look Caucasian, and the effect was not that great. Yet I was so emotionally invested in that aspect of the story that it didn't bother me that much.

That emotional investment was extremely important. None of the stories were boring, and never once did I find myself wishing that one story section would end so I could get back to one of the other stories. I think that is why the director's paced the movie the way they did. It was also deeply romantic, and that romance rooted the entire film in something primal and emotional. I'm man enough to admit that I was tearing up at the end.

This was a stunning and thought-provoking film, with amazing visuals and fascinating characters. It is complicated, three hours long, and involves some very dark themes including slavery, rape, cannibalism, suicide, and some pretty heinous acts of immorality and violence. Yet this mature content isn't too explicit, or gory. There is some nudity and violence, and plenty of course language. So be warned this is not a film for the easily offended. But I would absolutely recommend it, because I was blown away, and I think it was the best movie I've seen all year.

4 out of 4 Actors playing many parts.

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

6 comments:

Paul Kelly said...

Great review, JD. I'm glad Tom Tykwer also directed this movie, as he seems to have coaxed Lana and Andy out of their respective shells to talk about Cloud Atlas and The Matrix trilogy. There are some great interviews with The Wachowskis and Tykwer currently circulating online. I know they're shy, but they talk so passionately and knowledgeably about their craft, it's simply fascinating to watch.

celticmarc said...

Wow JD

I was a bit bummed because my local newspapers critics were rather lukewarm about this one.

Your review is encouraging me to go see it (as I wanted to). If I've survive the Tree of Life, I can surely easily plunge into this one.

Anonymous said...

Great review, can't wait to see the movie. As a side note, why is it that so many reviews mention only the Wachowskis? (I'm a big Tykwer-Fan myself.)

J.D. Balthazar said...

Mine is an oversight, which I will fix here soon. I think most reviewers omitted him because the Wachowski's names have some wider recognition that might sell tickets. Of course, considering the fan backlash over the second two Matrix films that might not be true.

I've never seen Run Lola Run or The International, which I believe were his big movies in the states. But I've heard they were good.

Thank you all for the feed back on the review!

celticmarc said...

Very interesting cinematographic experience. Very, and I mean, very good acting from everyone.

I have a feeling I'll love this movie more and more after re watching it.

Never a dull moment, and this is a feat in a movie this long.

magritte said...

I was drawn into the theatre more by Tom Tykwer than the Wachowski's too, and I really liked the film. It's a beautiful film but it demands patience from its audience. You have to be willing to accept the different narrative threads and slowly tease out the thematic connections rather than expect to see everything tie into a single plotline like a conventional film.

Tykwer's involved in another Wachowski project (Sense8) as well. Run Lola Run is great and the Princess and the Warrior and Perfume are worth a look, though they're definitely not to all tastes. Tykwer's a little like Arenofsky that way.