Cloud Atlas is a strange, ambitious and often incomprehensible film. Any reasonable person will need more than one viewing to fully comprehend what they've seen, and god help you if you haven't read the source material. David Mitchell's much-celebrated novel arrived in 2004, and now it's been adapted for the screen by not just one, but three directors: Andy and Lana Wachowski (formerly known as the "Wachowski brothers"long storyof The Matrix fame) and Tom Tykwer. The principal actorsTom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent and Xun Zhou, many other principal actorsplay multiple characters. The storylines are interwoven films within a film, each inhabiting its own genre and time period. They are as follows:
1850s. Action/Adventure. Adam Ewing is a gold-wealthy man who falls ill out at sea, but is it bad luck or treachery? While recovering aboard the ship, he befriends a stowaway and together they learn lessons about the evils of slavery.
1930s. Romantic Melodrama. Robert Frobisher is a miserably poor composer who pens the "Cloud Atlas" piece for a symphony whilst battling evil geniuses and suffering the consequences of forbidden love.
1970s. Pulpy Noir Thriller. A plucky reporter named Luisa Rey sets out to uncover a conspiracy involving nuclear reactors. The stakes are high. Who can she trust?
2012. Comedy. A book publisher, in an attempt to hide from thugs out to get him, winds up being placed in a nursing home by his conniving brother; hilarity ensues.
The Future. Science Fiction. Society has fabricated clones for sexy, food service industry purposes. One of them breaks free, falls in love, and sets in motion a revolution.
106 winters later. Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi. After "The fall," Earth's survivors have reverted to tribal living and speak what is sometimes a difficult-to-understand dialect. A traveler befriends the savages armed with the last remnants of technology. People die and fall in love, and hope for humanity is restored.
If that sounds like a lot to take in, it is. Individually, the stories tend to rely on cliché and familiar sentiment. In just one film, we've got people dying over manila folders, rows of clones suspended from hooks, plane crashes and noble savages. Each story has particular strengths, and if any one of them had time to stretch out and explain themselves better, they might make good films in their own right. As is, there's too much detail packed in too small a space, and we never linger on one plot for long. In one moment, we're watching a jovial gang of old-timers break out of a prison-like retirement home, and a minute later, a heartbroken composer is marching toward his tragic bathroom suicide. Taken as a whole, the effect is emotionally dizzying.
The same actors are used as different characters in each story, and there's a reason for thatthe short answer being reincarnation. Tom Hanks, for example, runs the gamut of human experience. He plays a crooked doctor, an opportunistic hotel clerk, a scientist determined to do the right thing, a belligerent author and a tribal family man. The other characters are similarly overlapped throughout the story, changing ages, ethnicities and even genders. The directors are putting the star system to work here; some actors are recognizable and some are not. It's surprisingly hard to make young people look older in film! If nothing else, Cloud Atlas will win a nomination for best makeup.
Overall, the casting gimmick works. It adds continuity between plots and helps illuminate the film's take-home message, which is, apparently, the evolution and/or enduring strength of the human spirit.
Cloud Atlas continues at the Carmike 12.