Cloud Atlas (2012)

Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 12:53 AM | Posted in

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 6.3/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 10/10 (Full Score)

CLOUD ATLAS (2012) - Lana/Andy Wachowski, Tom Tykwer

"[A person's] life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?"

The official synopsis of Cloud Atlas is described as: An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution. This very theme is what drives the entire film throughout its six interrelated and interwoven stories that range from the South Pacific in the nineteenth century to a post-apocalyptic future.

The first story, The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing, sails on the South Pacific Ocean in the year 1849, and follows an American lawyer named Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), who meets a stowaway slave on the ship and persuades Ewing to keep him hidden.

The second story, Letters from Zedelghem, jumps to the year 1936 in England and Scotland, and follows a bisexual English musician named Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw), who finds work as an amanuensis to a famous composer (Jim Broadbent), giving himself the time and inspiration to compose his own piece called "The Cloud Atlas Sextet."

The third story, Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery, moves west to San Francisco, California, the year 1973, and follows Luisa Rey (Halle Berry), a journalist who finds herself caught in the middle of a scandalous nuclear plot.

The fourth story, The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, comes back to current day 2012 in the United Kingdom, and follows Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent), an elderly publisher, who is tricked into hiding out in a nursing home that mistreats him.

The fifth story, An Orison of Sonmi-451, and the best story, takes a big leap into the future, the year 2144 in Seoul, Korea. Here, the narrative follows Sonmi-451 (Bae Doona), a genetically engineered clone living in a futuristic totalitarian society who finds herself rescued by a group of rebels.

The final story, Sloosha's Crossin' an Ev'rythin' After, takes place at the Hawaiian Islands, in a post-apocalyptic Earth, dated to be '106 winters after "The Fall" (identified to be the year 2321). It follows a tribesman named Zachry (Tom Hanks) who is visited by a member of the Prescients (Halle Berry), the last remaining members of a technologically advanced civilization.

Before I continue, I would like to bring up that Cloud Atlas is practically this year's Tree of Life, where responses are heavily (and I mean, heavily) polarized. Viewers either claimed that it is the best film of the year while others walked out before the movie reaches its midpoint. Many critics panned the movie, calling it "[A] boring [movie that] exceeds its grasp." Yet, when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, it received a ten-minute standing ovation. In summary, Cloud Atlas is a love-it-hate-it movie.

One of the most intriguing elements of Cloud Atlas is the fact that the ensemble cast enacts each storyline. Yes, you see Tom Hanks and Halle Berry in six different appearances. The most mind-blowing part is the power of makeup and costume in this film -- there were moments where I keep following a character in a storyline and then suddenly realizing that that character was Tom Hanks. When it comes down to makeup and costume, bring forth the Academy Award nomination.

The narrative of Cloud Atlas is similar to the 2004 Best Picture winner Crash, where the film constantly jumps around each character, giving them an even amount of screen time. As usual, this makes the digital editing extremely challenging. However, unlike Crash, this film is far more difficult, for it jumps around not only characters, but eras. In spite of this, Cloud Atlas manages to still pass by with ease, still fleshing each story enough for it to be its own separate film, where we actually care about the characters and their fates. This is an extremely large-scale movie, probably the biggest movie I have ever seen in my life, and to quote Roger Ebert, the "most ambitious."

Journal of Adam Ewing successfully takes us back to the 19th century, with terrific art direction, costumes, and set pieces, and is undoubtedly a showcase for Jim Sturgess, and reminds me of everything I love about him. I was always fond of his young acting talent, and I still am. However, after his notable appearances in 21 and Across the Universe, he slowly backed up to the sidelines, doing small films that almost nobody remembers. Cloud Atlas is proof that Sturgess still has it in him, making his lawyer-character one of my favorites in the entire film. Even for the stowaway slave, his presence is pivotal in the story, and even his performance can be notable. The chemistry surprisingly builds, making Adam Ewing a terrific story that I was always eager to get back to as the film progresses.

Letters from Zedelghem drives the musical aspect of Cloud Atlas, mostly due to the protagonist of this storyline writing a piece that contains the film's title. For this story, it is definitely the most romantic one, focusing on the emotional journey of the young musician, from his relationship with his lover to his passion for music. Even though he has an unfamiliar face on screen, his physique inevitably bears a form of innocence and kindness, whether it is because of his eyes or overall the facial expressions he makes without saying a single word. His performance may not be Oscar-worthy, but the design of his character is certainly memorable. As for Jim Broadbent portraying the elder composer, he does it with great skill, exhibiting a passionate yet grumpy man who is in deep love for music but at the same time is a flawed man who gets in the way of our protagonist's inner desires. It is simplistic and compelling, a terrific conflict for a story like Letters from Zedelghem.

The Luisa Rey Mystery, despite having lovable Halle Berry playing the lead here, does not contain applaudable performances. The story is interesting enough, but rarely something original comes up. Here, the narrative turns the story into more of a crime thriller. Intense? Yes, definitely. But that is about it.

Timothy Cavendish, despite it being a more humorous and entertaining story, is the odd one out when it comes to reviewing each one. This time, it is a showcase for Jim Broadbent, recently known for his portrayal of Horace Slughorn in the sixth Harry Potter movie. Without thinking, I was able to tell that this episode was definitely not directed by the Wachowski brothers, but Tykwer instead, who also directed Zedelghem and Luisa Rey. Different from every other story, which propels with raw emotion and intense moments, Timothy Cavendish is more of a relaxing chapter, a short film that the whole family can enjoy with Broadbent's silly and charismatic performance.

Orison of Sonmi-451 is the best story out of all of them, and I am pretty sure that it is also the story that the public audience wants to see the most due to the chapter taking place in the future with fancy gizmos. With a completely pure protagonist who has never seen the outside world, Sonmi-451 bears the greatest depth, from the nature of revolutions to the corruption of government, from self-identity to fate. As the narrative progresses, the main theme of Cloud Atlas begins to arise, slowly connecting each story together. However, if one takes each story, pulls them out and turn them into individual films, Orison of Sonmi-451 would be the one I see first. Here, the episode is the perfect opportunity for the Wachowski brothers to let their imaginations take flight. Imagine Blade Runner's Los Angeles meets Star Wars's Coruscant meets Tron: Legacy meets The Matrix. Whether you find the setting realistic enough or too cartoony, the visuals are beautiful enough to keep our eyes dazzled, like witnessing shooting stars in the night sky.

The final story, though uninteresting sometimes, is one of the most crucial, joining together with Sonmi-451 to connect each story together. Despite us already seeing Tom Hanks in the previous five stories, Sloosha's Crossin' is a showcase for Tom Hanks, reminding us why he is one of the greatest actors in the industry. However, his dirty clothes and native look inevitably reminds me of his appearance in Cast Away. This story is very interesting to watch, for it combines natives as well as futuristic technology. But of course, the greatest is when we realize that the tagline of Cloud Atlas begins to come in, that "everything is connected."

The soul of Cloud Atlas goes back to the quote mentioned in the beginning of this review: "[A person's] life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?"

With symbolism and motifs throughout the entire film, Cloud Atlas connects each story with the philosophical concept that mankind longs for freedom. Once the puzzle pieces have all connected, suddenly it all makes sense, and that is when each story builds up to its own emotional climax, and when you might find yourself having wet eyes, letting the revelations take you, body and soul. This is a film where one must let go of all the logical connections between the stories and characters. To quote Roger Ebert, the crucial request that the film has of us is we need to "set [our minds] free to play."

Cloud Atlas is eight minutes short of a three hour running time, yet not for one minute was I bored, let alone walk out of the theater. This is a movie where I knew I would want to watch it again and again, each time letting my soul go. From Ebert's words, Cloud Atlas will be talked about, and "deep theories will be proposed. Someone will say, 'I don't know what in the hell I saw.' The names of Freud and Jung will come up." Yes, many audience members and filmmakers say that movies require narrative continuity, where the cinematic qualities have certain necessities. However, in this critic's opinion, that is not what a true movie is. Movies are portals that invite us to new worlds and dimensions that compel us to fall in love and refuse to return to our reality. For a beautiful dreamlike film like Cloud Atlas, the cast of talented actors and trio of visionary directors are wise and ambitious enough to break those chains, to create something new and magical. Soon enough, another revelation will come, that the purpose of the film's characters is not to create someone likable, the purpose is to use human figures to direct our thoughts and emotions to the true theme that Cloud Atlas is trying to bestow upon.

In conclusion, Cloud Atlas is one of the most breathtaking films ever made, and now I truly understand why it is described as "ambitious." Because it truly is, and it has accomplished greatly. At first, it seems completely unrelated between an American lawyer from 1849 and a genetically engineered clone from 2144, but as Cloud Atlas keeps going, its theme keeps growing. With memorable performances from a cast participating in six different stories, Cloud Atlas is a grand scale masterpiece, a miraculous pièce de résistance where it can only touch you if you are visionary and forgiving enough to put everything aside and let its magical narrative and themes help your soul take flight.

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