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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Cloud Atlas | Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon | Review

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Cloud Atlas

Filmmaking siblings Lana (formerly Larry) and Andy Wachowski (the "Matrix" trilogy) teamed up with Tom Tykwer ("Run, Lola, Run") as writers and co-directors for the film adaptation of British author David Mitchell’s 2004 bestselling, 500 page, complex novel 'Cloud Atlas'.

It was an ambitious undertaking, and credit must be given to the impressive acting, beautiful cinematography, production and costume design. Made with a $100 million-plus budget, 'Cloud Atlas' is considered the most expensive indie film ever. Unfortunately, the finished piece, as a whole, falls short as a cohesive work of art.  It is like a gorgeous, intricate puzzle, whose pieces are hard to put together in a comprehensible manner.

Clocking in at just under three hours, 'Cloud Atlas' is a conglomeration of several genres: science fiction fantasy, Victorian drama, mystery thriller, romance, and comedy, woven together in six separate story lines spanning five hundred years, from the nineteenth century to a post apocalyptic future.

Tom Hanks and Halle Berry head the top notch ensemble cast that includes Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Hugh Grant, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Korean actress Doona Bae and an underused Susan Sarandon, with each actor portraying multiple characters in different eras while often changing race, nationality, gender and age with the help of various degrees of makeup and latex prosthetics.

Instead of being told one after the other, the narrative is broken into pieces, flashing back and forth from one era and story to another. As my husband describes it, it is like watching six different movies on TV, using a remote control to switch from one to the next to see all six at the same time. The only difference is each of the movies have recurring character reincarnations and you must try to piece together all six to follow the karma of each character and their past and future stories. If this sounds confusing, than you have an idea of what you can expect from 'Cloud Atlas'.

The interconnected plot lines include but are not limited to the following:  an 1850 South Pacific sea voyage of an American lawyer (Sturgess) who is slowly being poisoned by a doctor (Hanks) eager to steal his money;  in the 1930's a brilliant gay composer (Wishaw) writes letters to his lover (D’Arcy) while working as an amanuensis for a unscrupulous composer (Broadbent) who wants to take credit for the younger man's symphony, Cloud Atlas Sextet; in 1973 San Francisco, a magazine reporter's (Berry)  life is threatened while investigating a coverup at a nuclear power plant; a present day, humorous tale involving a publisher (Broadbent) imprisoned at a nursing home where a mean, head female nurse (Weaving, in total drag) reminiscent of nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, rules; in 2144 ”Neo Seoul” Korea, a genetically engineered female “fabricant”, Sonmi-451 (Bae), attempts to free herself from slavery with the help of a rebel (Sturgess); and in the distant future, after an apocalyptic “Big Fall”, a Hawaiian tribesman (Hanks), living a primitive existence (and speaking in a pidgin English that is barely decipherable), joins forces with an explorer (Berry) from an advanced civilization.

The underlying message is that we are all connected, bound by others past and present and that the choices we make in one life impacts our next and future lives, which is essentially how the laws of karma and re-incarnation work. There is also a thread about freedom and enslavement that runs throughout the film.

After sitting through this time shifting, mind bending film, I can understand why the book was considered impossible to adapt to the big screen. Despite their efforts to prove they could, the Wachowskis and Tykwer failed on achieving the most important element for movie going audiences, the ability for them to connect with the unfolding narrative. Because it is so confusing, I expect most who see this film will walk out feeling disconnected.  How disappointing and ironic, since 'Cloud Atlas' is all about interconnections.

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