Sometimes, the hardest thing a critic can do is describe the indescribable. When a film comes out that’s so beautiful, so bizarre, that words completely escape the mind, how can someone formulate comprehensible sentences to describe the film?
Such is the case with Cloud Atlas. The film covers six stories in less than three hours, connecting in such a manner that is strange and compelling, making this probably one of the best cinematic experiences this year.
Circa 1850: Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), an American notary, goes to the Chatham Islands to locate Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks) and bring him back to the States to help fix the parasitic worm eating his brain.
Zedelghem, Belgium, 1931: Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) tells his story through a series of letters to his lover Rufus Sixsmith (James D’arcy) as Frobisher takes a position as an amanuensis for composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent), in efforts to compose his own masterpiece.
California, 1975: Reporter Louisa Ray (Halle Berry) is on to exposing the nuclear power plant, run by oil tycoon Lloyd Hooks (Hugh Grant), as unsafe, when she soon realizes that she’s the target of a hitman (Hugo Weaving), preventing the story from seeing the light of day.
United Kingdom, 2012: When publisher Timothy Cavendish (Broadbent) gets in bad with an author (Hanks) and his gangster associates, he relies on his brother Denholme (Grant) to get him out, which means locking him up in a nursing home run by a sadistic nurse (Weaving).
“Neo Seoul”, 22nd century: A genetically-engineered clone (Doona Bae) is singled out by a mysterious general (Sturgess) to become the figurehead of an impending revolution.
In an undetermined time, a poor villager (Hanks) aids a futuristic visitor (Berry) to find a mysterious building to summon a distant planet with a message from generations before.
Writer/directors Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) team up to make David Mitchell’s novel of the same name a stunning reality. With the stories weaving together in an intricate fashion, the Wachowskis and Tykwer span from the past to distant future so masterfully that you can feel you’re experiencing these realities with the characters. From the set designs to the costume and makeup designs, the film is a visually stunning masterpiece.
Where the film becomes impressive is how diverse the actors can play. Hanks, Berry, Broadbent, Grant, Weaving, Bae, and Sturgess all play characters in each of the six stories, often times undergoing heavy makeup to appear as either a different race or sex (Berry plays a white woman in one story, Grant plays a cannibal in another), each displaying how multi-faceted they are. The bold decisions of these performers often leads to some of the more poignant performances of the film, where, like Weaving dressing in drag, sometimes lead to some very comedic moments.
Cloud Atlas is a wonderful film, but can be very difficult to get through. The stories, though beautifully told, can be difficult to sit through, especially since the film runs almost three hours long and you’re trying to figure out how everything is connected, as the tagline for the film suggests. Believe me that the connection is indeed there, and, if you’re willing to sit through the movie and understand what the film is trying to convey, the ending is extremely rewarding. Unlike films such as The Dark Knight Rises, which also runs about three hours, Cloud Atlas does not go swiftly. But what it lacks in action, it makes up for in emotion and grandeur, and is every bit worth the price of admission.
FINAL VERDICT: Cloud Atlas is not a sweeping action movie, and is certainly not the most fast-paced movie out there. However, if you have the patience, Atlas will make good on its promise of everything being connected, and will certainly offer you the stunning visuals and amazing performances the trailers promised, which definitely makes up for the near-three-hour run time.