Sunday, October 28, 2012

Movie Review: "Cloud Atlas"

There are many things one could call Cloud Atlas -- ambitious, emotional, thought-provoking -- and all of those things would be rightly justified.  Quite simply, it's the hardest movie to sum up in words.

The film, directed by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, is a collection of six stories set in different time periods, ranging from the 1800s to modern day, all the way to two stories set in the future.  With Cloud Atlas, it has a seemingly simple aim, to try and show how the smallest acts a person can make can impact and shape mankind's future.  This is done brilliantly as an 1800's man details his story in memoirs, which are read by an aspiring composer in the 1930s, who writes a piece (that becomes the film's unforgettable theme) that is heard by an investigative reporter in the 1970s, and so on and so forth.  This could have easily been a boring slog fest, as the Wachowskis and Tykwer tried to piece everything together, but what makes the story work is how they jump back and forth between each time period.

Each time period represents a different genre of film:  one story is a comedy, one is a drama about artistic passion, another is a period drama, and one is like a political thriller akin to All The President's Men.  Add on to those, two futuristic sci-fi stories, and it creates an intrigue in the viewer to try and piece together how these stories are connected, not making it completely obvious at first how these six stories are similar.  Where everything starts coming together is how the Wachowskis and Tykwer use parallel action to unfurl the story.  What is happening in one time period will mirror what is happening in another time period, where they are crosscutting between multiple time periods to form one scene that has a larger impact than any one time period could offer on its own.  It's this use of thematic similarities that ultimately ties everything together.

Each story is about a person doing something against the established order to try and create something greater than what has ever come before.  It's this thematic idea that each story represents that makes the film so emotionally powerful when all of the revelations start to be revealed.  As it is, this is one of the more unique films I've ever seen because of the storytelling.  The way the story does not conform to traditional storytelling methods by intercutting between the different genres, constantly keeps you on your toes and keeps you engaged.  I mean, here in one scene you'll be in a broad comedy, then the next you'll be in a thriller, and the next you'll be in an action flick.  However, the storytelling is not the only thing makes this film truly one of the most ambitious films ever made, it's the approach to the acting.

The story uses the same group of actors in every time period, from Tom Hanks to Halle Berry to Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant.  They do this by using makeup and prosthetics to change the actor's looks.  At times, some of the actors are completely unrecognizable -- I mean, who ever thought they'd see Hugh Grant as a post-apocalyptic cannibal?  Take Halle Berry, for example:  she plays an old Asian man, a white Jewish woman, and an African American woman, all in the same movie.  Every one of these actors relish in the opportunity to play such vastly different characters, many of which are unlike any they've ever been able to play before.  In this one film, you see charming Tom Hanks, mobster Tom Hanks, villain Tom Hanks, and even a Tom Hanks who is plagued by a dark force battling inside of him.  I'll just say it, I have never seen this done before, and I am not sure I ever will again, and that is what makes Cloud Atlas such an important film.

Whit all this said, Cloud Atlas is not for everyone.  Not everyone will like the way the story is told, and not everyone will connect with it as I have, but for individuals who like something that tries different ways to tell stories and to express emotions and ideas, this is a film for you.  It's impressive, exceptionally well acted and exquisitely well made on every level, featuring one of the most beautiful endings in any movie I've seen in recent memory.  Cloud Atlas is close to a flawless movie, if only it didn't drag for about the first half hour, as you're left wanting for forward momentum and not exposition.  So what?  It's an A+ for originality, but unfortunately I must grade the entire film.

I give Cloud Atlas an A-!

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