I was both scared and excited going into this film. I was a big fan of the Wachowskis’ previous films such as The Matrix trilogy, Bound and even speed racer. As for Tom Tykwer, I love to Run Lola Run and Perfume. The International was an okay film fo me, but I still give it a pass. Many think that the Wachowskis’ haven’t made a good film since the first Matrix, which I disagree with. But I can see why they would think that. Now comes this ambitious project which interweaves six different storylines to form a cohesive narrative. This film could’ve easily collapsed under the weight of its structure and end up being a convoluted mess. From the beginning of the film, one of the characters that Jim Broadbent plays informs us that he hates narratives flashbacks and flash forwards and the like but asked us if you could ignore that and come aboard you will be in for a ride. It is almost reminiscent of the scene in Looper in which two characters acknowledged that time travel is not the important thing. The scenes serve as a announcement to the audience of what kind of movie the filmmakers intend for you to see.
Through the almost 3 hour run time, the story spans from 1849 to the fall of civilization. The cast includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Bae Doona, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Zhou Xun, Keith David, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant reappearing throughout the film sometimes as different races or genders. These stories are thematically linked by love or the concept of enslavement. About 40 minutes into it, I felt nervous because of how the story was edited together. I wondered to myself if I would be able to keep up with the narrative. But after the 40 minute mark I began to get into the groove of things. It is amazing what the three directors were able to accomplish with this film. The novel by David Mitchell, in which the film was based on, was already a complex piece of literature. So the fact that they were able to extract a beautifully constructed tale is a miracle unto itself. The cinematography and the film’s score were sites and sounds worthy to behold.
The performances by the actors are nothing short of amazing. Each actor constructed a radically different portrayal for each of their characters in their separate storylines. I must give credit especially to Tom Hanks who has the most diverse character changes. I for one think that his performances for each character warrants an Academy award nomination next year. Also to note, some of the characters that Hugo weaving played did seem a bit reminiscent of Agent Smith from the Matrix. I am of the strong belief that no matter how complex a film is, you need that strong evocative performance to help audience engagement. That may have been some of the flaws with the second and third Matrix films which prevented investment in which was sorely needed. Cloud Atlas was able to shine in the area of audience engagement particularly because of the performances that we witnessed.
Out of all six storylines, my favorite had to be the one that featured the dystopian city of New Souels. It told the story of Sonmi-451, a clone that lived in servitude only to be freed by a mysterious warrior who sees a deep important purpose for her. The action and special effects for the story are top-notch and serves to remind us that we are watching the film from the guys who gave us The Matrix. Even though it’s my favorite storyline, the whole is still better than its individual parts. Enormous ovation should be given to the editor for stringing the scenes together in a tight and masterful manner which allowed the story to flow from one time period to the next without taking us out of the film.
As great as the film is however, it’s not without its flaws. For one, some of the makeup that are applied to the actors are god awful. It was a bit distracting whenever an actor shows up as a different race, age or gender with poorly done makeup bordering on amateurish. I understand that the filmmakers wanted you to know that it was the same actors behind the makeup but it just didn’t work for me. Another flaw occurs in the final storyline after the fall of civilization. Because it’s in the far future, English has been peered down to an almost unrecognizable dialect. In the scenes where the characters spoke in this strange new future speak, it was hard to understand what they were saying. It’s not actually a flaw in terms of a bad decision on the part of the filmmakers, but more of a hump that I had to get over to enjoy the film. it totally makes sense include this aspect of the culture in the far future, so that’s why it didn’t bother me too much.
Cloud Atlas was a wonderful cinematic achievement that reminded me why I respect these filmmakers, and should redeem them in the eyes of the fans who felt that they fell from grace. I was fully transported to this world and when it was over I wanted to go back for another visit.
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