Movie fans leaving a showing of the three-hour, sci fi discussion of reincarnation called “Cloud Atlas” may want to drive immediately to counseling sessions. If ever a movie made its audience feel small, insignificant, powerless, and ground under, with the only hope suicide or salvation by a superior civilization, this is that movie.
So be prepared to be bummed out, all ye who enter auditorium nine.
The movie is based on David Mitchell’s novel, apparently. It features a split narrative. Viewers aren’t with any one set of characters in any one setting and time for more than about five minutes. Usually the look-ins are much shorter than that.
“Cloud Atlas” does feature an attractive and large cast. Included are Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, James D’Arcy, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant. Most of them play several different characters, one each in several of the different stories. Lots of make-up is used.
The movie would have been appreciably stronger if the characters seemed to learn and get better as the stories got later. Perhaps they do—thieving doctor Hanks comes before violent yob novelist Hanks who comes before compromised nuclear-scientist Hanks who comes before noble savage Hanks.
But there are too many actors playing multiple characters for the viewer to keep track of a general scheme of amelioration if one exists. And besides, viewers may not be able to recognize the actors immediately under all that paint and plaster. Is that guy Jim Sturgess? Is that woman being played by Susan Sarandon?
Then, too, the stories themselves seem to have no connection one with the others. One is about a book publisher (Broadbent) whose brother tricks him into life in an asylum from which he escapes with the help of other unwilling patients and a bar full of drunken Scots.
One is about a family-loving tribesman (Hanks) who helps a visitor climb up to what seems to be a recently deserted scientific-facility full of corpses. There the visitor uses a big radar dish for a moment and then the two of them fight off an attack of primitive cavalry.
One is about a homosexual hooker who goes to work for an aging composer (Broadbent). The younger man writes a symphony, shoots the composer, and runs to London where he sees but does not speak to his lover (D’Arcy) before offing himself.
One is about a Korean waitress who is freed from ritual servitude by a man at odds with the police. She narrates a battle between the cops and the rebels, or maybe she mouths philosophic observations. The movie is full of these. “Whatever you do, don’t look back.” “All boundaries are conventions waiting to be transcended.” Thanks for those, “Cloud Atlas.”
One story is about a young man (Sturgess) being poisoned by a doctor (Hanks) and saved by a runaway slave. The young man then refuses to involve himself in slave trading.
There may be more stories, but frankly the movie is confusing in a way which limits retention. When it needs shorthand, it always falls back on the safe movie sorts of cliches. Big Oil is to blame for bad things. Slavery is, for the writers, a living and aggressive concept—remember that we have movies about Jackie Robinson and Abraham Lincoln due out shortly.
Poor sound recording hurts the film; it is difficult to make out fake native patois when one isn’t able to discern the syllables. But the film looks good. It has some action, well-filmed, as one would expect, given that the three directors made “Run Lola Run” and “The Matrix.”
But remember that they also made the second and third Matrix movies. “Cloud Atlas” is more accomplished than they were. But that’s damning with faint praise. And it may not be damning enough.