“Cloud Atlas,” a 21st Century Epic

 Consider the great cinematic “epics” of yesterday – modern works like D.W. Griffith’s controversial Birth of a Nation (1915) or Victor Fleming’s Gone with the Wind (1939).  Then, consider more recent, or contemporary epics, including Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) or James Cameron’s AVATAR (2009).  These films either serve as historical milestones on a Hollywood timeline, or they’re revered for their exceptional beauty and their ambitious nature.  The magnum opus Cloud Atlas is an epic by every definition of the word and with time will garner a fitting reputation.

Based on David Mitchell’s 2004 novel Cloud Atlas, screenwriters Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix trilogy) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) adapted and directed a screenplay, a feat Mitchell himself praised when he told an audience at New York’s Symphony Space, “I knew that they would be changing the structure of it, and what I felt, really, was relief because if somebody filmed it with the same structure as the book, it would suck.”  While writing the book, a cacoon-like series of intertwining stories, Mitchell said, “I can honestly say that the only film-related thought I had when I was writing this was: what a shame nobody will ever film this…it’s not only one of the most ‘unfilmable’ books I’ve ever written, this is also one of the most ‘unfilmable’ books I’ve ever read.”

Cloud Atlas is an exploration of how individual actions and lives impact one another in the past, present, and future.  As one soul is shaped from killer to hero, an act of kindness ripples across centuries and inspires a revolution.  Everything is connected – a diary from the 1800s, a bittersweet love story, a thriller about a nuclear power plant, a farce about a publisher in a nursing home, a rebellious clone in Neo Seoul, and a tribe fighting demons and savages on a post-apocolyptic island.

The six stories are seamlessly interwoven and generate interest in what’s to come, while leaving viewers lingering on what has happened.  It’s breathtakingly stunning and the images move over one of the best film scores in recent memory.  The score, a character all its own, echoes the characters’ fragilities or strengths and the “Cloud Atlas End Title,” sends a flood of images rushing back, bringing with them the emotional weight or flight of every experience in this powerful film about change, love, kindness, and their everlasting effects.

As much of a feat as Cloud Atlas was to adapt for the screen, bringing the story to life must have been an equally challenging task for the ensemble, some of whom were responsible for bringing four or more characters to life.  Jim Sturgess, Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Hugh Grant, and Susan Sarandon commendably accomplished this feat, though, a few made one or more highly notable impressions.

Ben Whishaw, as “Robert Frobisher,” is sure to capture your attention with his dreams, associated musical compositions, and love story with James D’Arcy as “Young Rufus Sixsmith.” Doona Bae will be most memorable for her portrayal of “Sonmi 451,” and her venture with Jim Sturgess as “Hae-Joo Chang,” who is fittingly remniscent of “Neo” from The Matrix, but better.  Sturgess is also commendable for his 1800s period-charcter “Adam Ewing.”  Halle Berry proves her action-drama prowess with “Luisa Rey,” a fearless and bold investigative reporter, and Tom Hanks actually excels as the post-apocolyptic (albeit Castaway referrential) tribal family man “Zachry.”  And just when you thought there wasn’t any comic relief, Jim Broadbent brings you “Timothy Cavendish,” an out of control book publisher who becomes “self-committed” to a retirement home.

Cloud Atlas is a beautifully crafted and thoroughly engaging film.  It offers commentary on where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going if we keep “making the same mistakes.” Cloud Atlas runs 172 minutes and is rated R for violence, language, sexuality, nudity, and drug use.  Do yourself a favor, go see this movie – it’s simply epic and definitely worth a second view, at least.

Grade: A+





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