Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review: Cloud Atlas

I’m honestly having a bit of trouble discussing this movie. Partially it’s that this movie is very complicated. That’s not such a problem, as it’s this complication and intellect that make it so good. And it is good, ridiculously good, probably the best movie I’ve seen this year thus far. But, as I write this, it’s been less than 2 hours since I got out of the theater and it’s only my first viewing. I will have to see it again, and perhaps a third time, before I grasp it fully, but I have to review it, so I can hopefully convince other people to see it, even though I might accidentally spoil it in my attempts to recount the plot. So, what I’m trying to get across is, this is the best movie I’ve seen all year. If my saying that intrigues you at all, you should go see this movie right away, in case I accidentally spoil it. If you want to learn more…well read on.

Okay so the plot is probably gonna take some time to explain, so let me get started. Actually, fuck that, my usual approach is kind of worthless here. Instead, I’m going to give you the setup: There are 6 different plots in this movie, interwoven and parallel, from varying settings and genres, which never directly cross. The first, at least chronologically, is about a Lawyer in Africa in 1849 who becomes friends with an escaped slave. The second is devoted to a penniless musician in 1936 who is working for a great composer and is inspired to make his own work. The third is about a crusading journalist in 1975 writing about a corporate conspiracy. The fourth is about a British publisher in the modern day (2012) who finds himself locked in a Nursing home against his will. The fifth takes place in the 22nd century in South Korea and is devoted to a cloned slave who may be beginning to question the purpose of her existence. And the sixth and final one takes place 100 years after an unspecified apocalypse and is about a barbarian leading a woman up a mountain where she believes something important waits.

Okay so those are the 6 plots of this movie, and what’s important to absorb is that, despite being fully separate from each other with no characters crossing over (okay, one character crosses over into a second story verrrry briefly) they are united by shared themes and actors. Yes, despite each story boasting it’s own unique cast of characters, each of them are played by a surprisingly small stable of actors, accomplished through extensive makeup, causing each actor to play a completely different person in each role, crossing time, race and even gender lines. For example, Hugo Weaving (the closest thing the movie has to a recurring bad guy actor) plays an old man in one story, a younger man in another and tall woman in another. Elsewhere, Halle Berry plays a white woman, a latina and what appears to be a mixed race woman. I won’t spoil any of the others, because you deserve to go into them cold, but trust me, all of the major actors do it and it’s so amazing that not only did I not recognize a lot of people in multiple roles, but anyone else nominated for Best Makeup at this Oscars might as well stay home.

The actors are all brilliant, to the point where my earlier worries about stunt casting proved completely wrong. Halle Berry is better than she’s ever been and this is the first real role in her (rather unfortunate) post-Oscar career that really reminds us of why we were interested in her in the first place (aside from, you know, the obvious). Tom Hanks, who is given the most of the prominent roles is really incredible, going from comic relief, to villain to action here, a good example of why he’s one of the few actors who has made the often difficult transition from comedy to drama. Jim Broadbent is a good standout, his natural affect and likability really helping to sell a third act twist and Jim Sturgess gives it his all in his two lead roles, and acquits himself nicely. Bae Doona is a little harder to get a read on, as she only has a major role in one story, but she’s excellent in it, and knowing where she is in the other ones, I think I can safely say she did a great job.

None of this, and I do mean none, would work without great direction and screenwriting. The way the stories fit together and flit from genre to genre (for example, the 1975 story is a conspiracy thriller, the 2012 a slapstick comedy and the 2200 one a sci-fi action movie…no really) is breathtaking to behold. A gun being aimed in one story can cut to a different kind of gun being fired in another, a comedy chase leads into a real one. Each one has a distinct visual style and a beginning, middle and end, and I’d normally expect the movie to feel thinly spread, or the individual stories feel cut off, but they don’t. In fact they meld so seamlessly together that I’m surprised how fast the movie feels and how well they used their (admittedly long) running time.

Oh and about the whole racial thing: I’ve noticed people getting quite angry about the fact that Jim Sturgess places an Asian in one story, with accusations of ‘yellowface’ being thrown around. Now, based on having seen the movie and it’s major themes, I have to assume that such people haven’t actually seen the movie. But, for the record, no the movie is not racist, it’s being used to make a point about past lives and how races are all in our minds. I’d say that that’s as far from being racist as you can get.

Guys, I gotta be honest, I was completely blown away by this movie. It's a captivating, engaging, unique and at times deeply moving film (this is the first time, since 2006's Pan's Labyrinth, that I actually cried in a theater). I know the word pretentious gets thrown around a lot, but I think it’s ill applied, especially when the movie it’s being thrown at actually has something to say and says it in a unique, memorable and captivating way. This is currently the best movie I’ve seen all year, a true masterpiece in every sense of the word, and the best film in all three of it’s director’s careers. Do not miss this movie, it’s an experience you never forget.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and next time he goes he’s going to bring a flowchart to try and figure out where each actor is in each segment.


  1. Hugo Weaving the only bad guy? Did Hugh Grant play a good guy? I so want to see this again (& again, & again!! I'd buy if i had $)! & you should read the book, as should anyone who was confused. The stories are more linear, moving from past to future, and then back.

  2. BTW, the dish breaking sequence in the book was one of the ways the Cloud Atlas music came to Robert Frobisher. Each thing that broke was a note in the composition, or a new section of the orchestra."Dreamt I stood in a china shop so crowded from floor to far-off ceiling with shelves of porcelain antiquities that moving a muscle would cause several to fall and smash to bits. Exactly what happened, but instead of a crashing noise, an august chord rang out, half-cello, half celeste, D-major(?, held for four beats...")Told you, you need to read it!