[Review] – Cloud Atlas

4 Nov

Title: Cloud Atlas
Year: 2012
Directors: Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski and Andy Wachowski
Writers: Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski and Andy Wachowski, based on the novel by David Mitchell
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Bae Doona, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Zhou Xun, Keith David, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant
MPAA Rating: R, violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use
Runtime: 172 min
IMDb Rating: 8.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 63%
Metacritic: 55

Oh, Cloud Atlas. So much has been said about this film, that I don’t know where to start. I also don’t know where to start because this film has so much going on. I mean, it’s an independent movie with a budget of more than $100 million. You could start there, with how independent sources backed up this project and how Andy and Lana Wachowski put up mortgages on their houses to get money for funding. You could also start by saying that it adapts a brilliant novel that pretty much anyone who had read it deemed totally “unadaptable” because of how it had six super different interwoven story lines. You could also start by noting that it has some top notch Hollywood talent taking on multiple roles, playing different races and sexes. You could start by saying it’s one of the most ambitious films ever made.

I really mean that, by the way. I like to think I’ve watched my fair number of films, and I’m at over 670 reviews so far and if you base stuff solely based on the level of ambition, this is probably the film that’s impressed me the most out of those 670. You really have to give it to the Wachowski siblings as well as Tom Tykwer, who co-directed and co-wrote with them, for having the balls to make such a visionary film. A three-hour $100-million sprawling epic is not an easy sell and even though it got a 10-minute standing ovation when it premiered at TIFF this year, the critical reaction has been decidedly polarizing and the box office results disappointing.

Still, this film got made. Maybe the fact that it hasn’t been embraced means that it will take a long, long time before someone dares to make a film like this again any time soon, but this one got made, and I celebrate that. Working out the relations between the stories and the characters is something that will definitely take multiple viewings to really comprehend but something that will be more than worth it because not for a single one of its 172 minutes was I bored by this film.

That’s the best thing I can say about this. I mean, even the most ambitious epics have parts of it that kind of drag along and don’t have you as engaged and that just simply wasn’t the case here. It’s a film that holds your attention through its entirety and that really deserves it because of the profound emotional impact it can elicit when it’s all said and done. There’s stuff that’s undeniably messy about this film, but I loved it, I loved it because I didn’t think films like this would get made nowadays and I loved it because it’s just pulsating with so much passion and heart from these filmmakers that deserve all the kudos in the world for this.

Now, what exactly is Cloud Atlas about? Well, that, as you might imagine, may take a while to really explain, but I’ll try to be way brief here. We get to be in the Pacific Ocean in the mid-19th century with an American lawyer who sees slavery first-hand; then we jet of to Edinburgh in the 1930’s with a penniless musician; flash forward some 40 years and we’re then in San Francisco with a journalist; in the present day we’re in the U.K. with an old publisher who’s confined against his will in a nursing home; then in 2144 we live in a totalitarian society and we meet a genetically-engineered clone; and finally we’re in post-apocalyptic future where we see a man living a primitive life.

Like I said, there’s a lot to digest here in Cloud Atlas, six very different realities and sets of characters that are played by the same actors in a really astounding trickery of make-up. I don’t go into specifics of each story because that would take a lot of space in this review and because that’s mostly for you to discover on your own, just be sure to know that you get every genre you need here and you see these wonderful stories about how our actions can have a ripple effect way into the future.

What I also loved is that it managed to achieve a connection. When you have half a dozen sprawling, epic narratives that are so different from one another it’s obviously hard to get some to feel compelling without losing focus of the others. Cloud Atlas balances it brilliantly, though, it stays long enough in one reality for you to really get deep into it and just when it’s got the hook on you it jettisons off to the next and does the same, and leaves you thinking about the others and appreciating what it’s doing as a whole with the thought-provoking structure and ideas it’s throwing around.

On Thursday I saw Leos Carax‘s masterful new film, Holy Motors, and I can’t help but see a similarity between these two films. In the French import you have a man changing himself, portraying very different characters inside a reality that in its most general sense remains the same but that really changes with him, that provides different genres for him to play in. Here you have more defined distinct realities but having the same actors playing all these different roles is amazing. Not to mention that, as I thought with Holy Motors, I believe that Cloud Atlas does, indeed, offer a really interesting commentary on life but I think it also speaks about the power of cinema. Another connection is that they’re two of the best films 2012 has given us.

It’ll obviously be a very polarizing film, there were times in which it was easy to see that people were going to get frustrated about it and think it was all about too heavy-handed and think it’s too much of a mess, thinking that this trio of filmmakers made this film just to prove that they could. I get those reactions but I don’t share them at all, this connected with me and, what’s more, it left me desperate for repeat viewings, to see it for a third or fourth time to fully grasp every little thing it was offering, and I can’t ask for much more from a movie.

Anyways, even if you’re part of the group that sees this as an over-blown, ridiculous piece of work (and I admit that it’s definitely flawed) you still have to admit that this is what filmmaking is about, you still have to admit that people shouldn’t ignore Cloud Atlas. Look at the risks this film is taking, look at those heavy ideas it’s daring to tackle, those huge emotions it’s daring to elicit, that’s what you should pay entrances fees for, not to get some formulaic, predictable, amusing movie. Yes, it makes mistakes along the way, a few of them, but so what? It’s still a breathtakingly beautiful, wholly original and powerful film.

Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, and the list goes on; great actors doing really great things with a great array of roles that sees them being placed (at least a few times) way out of their comfort zones and, in pretty much every single case, rising to the occasion and shining like crazy. This is a fascinating film that warrants deep discussion about its themes (if you thought The Matrix Reloaded was full of big ideas in play wait ’til you see what the Wachowski’s have done here) and that’s the reason why films should be made, that why what I attempt to do in this website was invented for by people far more talented than me, to discuss a piece of art.

This review is already a bit too long, but so is this film so I guess it’s only fitting. Again, a shout-out to the people who were in charge of the make-up here who should be mortal locks for that Academy Award because at times it was so damn good you won’t be able to tell exactly which famous face you’re seeing and be dazzled by how they morphed them into different genders, races and ages. This is a film that illustrates so perfectly the power of cinema, that provides its actors with the most amazing challenges, that sees its directors taking the hugest of leaps without ever looking back. It’s far from perfect, but it’s gorgeous, it’s funny, it’s sentimental, and it has a hell of a lot of passion.

Grade: A


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