Here’s a truth few would dispute; the Wachowski siblings (Andy & Lana) have not made a good quality movie since “The Matrix” in 1999. The two movie sequels were subpar and “Speed Racer” was just awful. Their newest venture is “Cloud Atlas” which is based upon the novel of the same name. It stars Tom Hanks and Halle Berry. The two filmmakers also team up with writer/director Tom Tylwer to make this movie and it could be considered their best work to date. However, there is a good chance you will not like it.
If you have seen the trailer to “Cloud Atlas” you may think to yourself, “What the hell is this movie about?” When an audience at an advance screening in West Palm Beach was told the movie is almost 3-hours long, you could hear some groans in the theater. I, myself, was not looking forward to sitting through such a long movie that, as far as I could tell, was just “weird”. To my surprise, I had a really good time, but others did not feel the same. About 25 people walked out of the movie before it ended.
“Cloud Atlas” begins with a very old man telling a story. It takes a moment to realize that the man is Tom Hanks. The makeup effects are outstanding and this movie is a shoe -in for a nomination in the Best Makeup category at this year’s Oscars.
The movie begins by telling the tale of a sick man, who, in 1849, is taking a sea voyage to return to his family. In 1936, a gay male prostitute becomes the apprentice of a famous composer hoping that he will one day write a great musical score. A reporter (Halle Berry) is on the biggest story of her career, but it may cost her her life before she gets the chance to write it. The year is 1973. The present day story, the one happening in 2012, is about an old publisher whose brother puts him in a retirement home against his will. He teams up with some other residents to plan a great escape. They story in the future, taking place in 2144, centers on a Korean woman who is actually a clone serving in a restaurant with other clones. She helps start a revolution. Finally in a post-apocalyptic world, a tribesman (Tom Hanks) takes a technically advanced outsider (Halle Berry) on a journey that could help save her people. Even though these stories take place many years apart from one another, they are all tied together in one way or another.
The stories are presented chronologically, at first to set them all up. After that, the movie jumps to each story out of chronological order, though not randomly, clearly with a purpose. The movie could go from 2144 to 1973 to 1849 and back to 1973. There is a method to the madness of the editing. In fact, one of the characters utters this near the beginning of the movie and I couldn’t help to think that this was a message from the filmmakers to the audience. It all works out thanks largely due to the editing skills of Alexander Berner. There is a magnificent smoothness to everything, though, in the hands of someone less capable, it could have gotten quite muddled.
“Cloud Atlas” has a little trouble getting its footing as each story is first being told and can lost the interest of the audience. This is when people first started to bail on the movie. However, once everything has been set up, things move much more quickly and the audience is given some great drama, exciting action sequences, fabulous acting and a deeply layered story.
It’s easy to see why Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, Keith David, Jim Broadbent and Hugo Weaving got on board for this project because, from an actor’s perspective, it must have been quite challenging. “Cloud Atlas” allowed these actors to play multiple parts, and types of characters they have not played thus far. In one sequence, Weaving plays a Nurse Ratchet(“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”) on steroids. In fact, given the makeup job mentioned earlier, I’ll bet you don’t even recognize some actors. Everyone does a wonderful and sometimes surprising job with their respective characters.
The end credits reveal that the directing duties on the movie were split up evenly between the Wachowskis and Tom Tylwer, each directing three apiece. Not surprisingly, the Wachowskis took on the segments that take place in the future. The brother and sister filmmakers got in touch with their roots that made “The Matrix” such a huge success. The action and visuals the directors put together are breathtaking and are filled with fully developed characters in which audiences become deeply invested. Tylwer, meanwhile, adds the right mix of comedy, drama and even a little shock value to make his sequences just as enjoyable to watch.
So why did so many people walk out on this movie if it is so good? The fact that they were told how long it was going to be possibly planted a negative seed in their heads. When the movie got a little slow they didn’t want to watch what they thought would be “hours” more of it. Too bad for them because the consensus for those that stayed to the end was how great the movie is and that they would definitely recommend the movie to friends.
The movie does make you think, too and that’s the last things some people who come to a movie want to do. These actors are playing multiple parts; but, are the multiple characters they play reincarnations of those characters in future lives or maybe the character Halle Berry plays in one point in time is reincarnated as Tom Hank’s character in the future? Perhaps there is no reincarnation going on and these are just random people throughout time. What’s great is that a movie like this lets you discuss and think about such matters long after you have left the theater.
“Cloud Atlas” is one of the best movies of the year. Who cares how long it is as long as it entertains and keeps our attention. It does! The three filmmakers have woven together a fantastic piece of cinema art. As longs as the Wachowskis’ next movie is not “Cloud Atlas: Reloaded,” then all will be right in the world. It is rated R for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use.