Cloud Atlas

Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and others on a long, strange trip to nowhere.

For a movie so jammed full of stuff—nearly three hours’ worth of it—Cloud Atlas feels oddly empty. Written and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski and German filmmaker Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, The International), the picture is both madly ambitious and ultimately banal. Viewers unfamiliar with the 2004 David Mitchell novel on which it’s based may also find it baffling.

The movie interweaves six stories spread across 500 years—tales that intend to demonstrate for us the reincarnation of spirits, the persistence of love, and the timeless yearning for freedom. In his book, Mitchell firmly establishes each of these stories before moving on to the next and then circling back. Here, the narrative elements have been finely diced into what I suppose would have to be called a mosaic. And so we begin with Tom Hanks muttering by a post-apocalyptic campfire far in the future, and then abruptly jump to 1849, where a young attorney (Jim Sturgess), making his way among the Pacific islands, discovers the ugly realities of the world slave trade while being slowly poisoned by a skeezy doctor (Hanks again) aboard the ship on which he’s traveling. Before we can quite process this, we find ourselves in England in 1936, where a young composer named Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) is taking leave of his boyfriend, Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy), before departing for Edinburgh, where he’s to become an amanuensis to a crabby older composer named Ayrs (Jim Broadbent). Frobisher is working on a beautiful piece of music called The Cloud Atlas Sextet, and as we eventually see, Ayrs wants to claim it as his own.

Before we can get too caught up in the Frobisher story, we’re whisked off to 1973 San Francisco, where an investigative reporter (Halle Berry) is looking into the sinister machinations of a nuclear-plant executive (Hugh Grant) with the help of a whistleblower—who turns out to be the older Rufus Sixsmith—and a plant employee (Hanks yet again) to whom Berry’s character seems strangely familiar. This element of the movie, with its gritty tone of ’70s-style high-level intrigue, is just taking hold when we’re suddenly transported to present-day London, where a tweedy publisher (Broadbent again) is appalled at a party when his best-selling author Dermot Hoggins (Hanks, with complicated chin hair and a honking Scottish accent) deals with a snotty critic by tossing him off a high balcony. (We don’t actually hear the Wachowskis chuckling here, but can perhaps be forgiven for sensing their approval.)

Before long we find ourselves in the year 2144, in the blazing Korean metropolis of Neo Seoul, where a genetically manufactured waitress called Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae) is feeling the first, forbidden stirrings of human consciousness. Soon she initiates a struggle for clone liberation, aided by a freedom fighter named Hae-Joo Chang (Sturgess again, disconcertingly accessorized with epicanthic eyefolds). Meanwhile, back at the beginning, in the post-apocalyptic year of 2321, we find Hanks—who turns out to be a retro-primitive goat-herder—consulting with a village priestess (Susan Sarandon!) about the sayings of Sonmi—now revered as a goddess—and being drawn into the high-tech exploits of another freedom fighter, named Meronym (Berry again).

It should be said that Halle Berry has never looked lovelier than she does in this section of the film. Also that Ben Whishaw and Jim Sturgess are full-fledged stars, that Hanks proves himself game for anything (even the preposterous yob comedy of the London party scene), and that much of the movie is beautifully designed and shot. But its attempted epic sweep collapses into jarring narrative shards, and is further undone by its wildly clashing tones (sci-fi versus period adventure versus whatever) and by the distracting use of well-known actors in multiple roles. (Is that Hugo Weaving in drag? Look, there he is again! And again!) The proposition that we are all connected beyond the borders of time, and may dimly recognize earlier others as our soul-travels proceed, is hardly new. And any romantic charge that might have lent the film a unifying emotional lift is smothered by its disjointed structure. The movie’s clamoring complexity may justify its length. But by the time the ultra-silly conclusion heaves into view, some viewers may decide they’ve taken a very long trip to nowhere.

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  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    I remember the TV ads for the first Matrix being mysterious in a good way, but the ads I've seen for this movie don't even begin to hint at what it's about. Now that this review has told me about all the time jumping and multiple role playing, I'm even less interested in seeing it.

    Kind of a shame that the Wachowskis seem to have blown their load creatively over a decade ago. (Didn't see Speed Racer.)

  • Cameroon||

    It should be said that Halle Berry has never looked lovelier than she does in this section of the film. Also that Ben Whishaw and Jim Sturgess are full-fledged stars, that Hanks proves himself game for anything (even the preposterous yob comedy of the London party scene), and that much of the movie is beautifully designed and shot. But its attempted epic sweep collapses into jarring narrative shards, and is further undone by its wildly clashing tones (sci-fi versus period adventure versus whatever) and by the distracting use of well-known actors in multiple roles. (Is that Hugo Weaving in drag? Look, there he is again! And again!) The proposition that we are all connected beyond the borders of time,coach
    outlet
    and may dimly recognize earlier others as our soul-travels proceed, is hardly new. And any romantic charge that might have lent the film a unifying emotional lift is smothered by its disjointed structure. The movie’s clamoring complexity may justify its length. But by the time the ultra-silly conclusion heaves into view, some viewers may decide they’ve taken a very long trip to nowhere.

  • PapayaSF||

    ^Flag as spam.

  • Shmurphy||

    Why? It's important enough to stress that we're connected beyond the borders of time COACH OUTLET and even though it's purely a copy-paste GROW YOUR BALLS 4X NATURALLY version of what was already in the story, that doesn't invalidate its message.

    FREE BATH SALTS WITH PURCHASE OF CHAINSAW ONLINECHAINSAWNIGHTMARE.ORG

  • Tim||

    Cloud Atlas Shrugged?

  • Brian Sorgatz||

    OK. Sure. Why not? I saw it yesterday and greatly appreciated its libertarian (not specifically Randian) message. Mr. Loder misses the forest for the trees by whining about how "baffling" it is. A mild dose of confusion is part of the fun.

    To invert the Roger Ebert quote about North, I loved loved loved Cloud Atlas. I'm already looking forward to the first CloudCon, which is surely fated to happen.

  • Emperor Wears No Clothes||

    What, no section where he's a man with gills who races around on a Sea-Doo saving a floating city? Or a section where he's a mail carrier who races around saving a bunch of filthy rednecks? Or a section where he's a guy with oxygen-tank tubes stuck in his nose, saving the other elderly residents of Del Boca Vista from the evil Cyclones? (Cyclops)? I can never remember my L. Ron Hubbard. Or a section where he teams up with Russel Crowe and they cross the Sahara as part of an over-the-Hollywood-Hills singing duo?

  • ||

    But by the time the ultra-silly conclusion heaves into view, some viewers may decide they’ve taken a very long trip to nowhere.

    Sounds like an accurate rendition of the novel.

  • ||

    I should also mention that the Sonmi-451 sections of the novel were probably inspired by the matrix.

    The themes of revolution and salvation (complete with savior) being twisted into just another layer of control are nearly identical to those of neo and his story.

    Novelist steals from movie...movie makers of movie make movie of novel copying their own work.

  • Shmurphy||

    We are through the looking glass, people!

  • RyanXXX||

    Has Kurt ever appreciated an ambiguous film that took more than one viewing to "get"?

  • Sudden||

    He raved about Take Shelter, which admittedly while not necessarily a movie that "takes more than one viewing to 'get'", does leave the viewer with more questions and open-ended interpretations than most.

    I saw it based on his review and was not disappointed.

  • TommyTone||

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  • TommyTone||

    I saw it based on his review and was not disappointed. handuk bagus
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  • TommyTone||

    The themes of revolution and salvation (complete with savior) being twisted into just another layer of control are nearly identical to those of neo and his story. grosir handuk murah
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  • TommyTone||

    It should be said that Halle Berry has never looked lovelier than she does in this section of the film. Also that Ben Whishaw and Jim Sturgess are full-fledged stars, that Hanks proves himself game for anything (even the preposterous yob comedy of the London party scene), handuk terry palmer
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