Cloud Atlas More Wasteland Than Wonderland
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2012 26 Oct
DVD Release Date: May 14, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: October 26, 2012
Rating: R for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use
Run Time: 172 min.
Director: Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer
Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Hugh Grant
"Everything is connected," states the tagline for Cloud Atlas. If you think you already know that—whether or not you agree with the idea—then you have to ask yourself if a 172-minute treatment of that theme is an investment of time you’re willing to make. Cloud Atlas, based on a novel by David Mitchell, is a massive, $100 million adaptation that takes much too long to hit its stride, then leaves you wondering what all the fuss was about.
A number of well-known actors play multiple roles in the film, which consists of six different storylines set in 1849, 1936, 1973, the present day, 2144 and the 2300s. The use of the same actors across many of the scenarios underscores the movie’s tagline, just in case you couldn’t figure out on your own how, or why, these stories relate to each other.
The story threads are as follows: Jim Sturgess is a lawyer in 1849 who undergoes a moral awakening after he’s befriended by a slave. Also appearing in the 1849 segment, set in the South Pacific, are characters played by Jim Broadbent, Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving (Captain America), Doona Bae and Keith David (Coraline).
The 1936 segment, set in Scotland, focuses on a young composer (Ben Whishaw, I'm Not There) working on a symphony, the “Cloud Atlas Sextet,” with an older composer (Broadbent, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) determined to burnish his credentials.
In 1973 San Francisco, Berry (New Year's Eve) is a reporter working on a expose that puts her life in danger.
The 2012 segment is the movie’s most humorous—something sorely lacking in this overlong, often dreary film. It tells of a publisher (Broadbent) who scores an unexpected hit with a biography of a malcontent played by Hanks (Larry Crowne).
The film’s most consistently interesting segment, set in 2144, is also its most visually arresting story. It trades on shopworn ideas about dehumanization in the not-so-distant future, but does so with sleek visuals that comprise most of the film's memorable imagery.
Hanks also plays a goatherd in 2300s Hawaii, with Susan Sarandon (Enchanted) as a village Abbess.
Whether or not viewers will be able to ascertain a unifying theme across the stories, they could be forgiven for wondering what is the point of the entire endeavor. While some of the scenarios are engaging, the multiple stories give the film a wildly uneven quality, running from Mystery Science Theater 3000 unintentional goofiness to spectacularly executed action sequences and visionary image-making.
Filmmaking siblings Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix, Speed Racer) as well as Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) share directing duties across the different segments, but they never make a case for why these stories are worth nearly three hours of our time. The occasional visual wonder aside, Cloud Atlas never connects on a deep level, keeping us at arm's length for a story that should reach into our souls. The best the film can muster is a few verbalized ideas about the afterlife and the desire for basic human dignity. But it offers nothing thematically that hasn’t been treated more thoughtfully—and more concisely—in other, better films dealing with the same ideas, whether set in the future or the past.
Cloud Atlas is designed to leave audiences thinking about human connections across the centuries, but it’s more likely to leave them thinking of the immediate past and the very near future, as in: a few hours ago they were several dollars richer, and soon they’ll be able to move on to other things.
- Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain multiple times; several uses of the “f”-word; numerous uses of foul language; racial epithet
- Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Several characters are shown smoking; drinking at a bar
- Sex/Nudity: A man stands while he has sex with a woman who’s laying on a table; naked male backside shown; a man simulates an orgasm; a homosexual relationship is depicted; male lovers kiss each other; breast shown; a woman and man have sex, and her breasts are seen; euphemism for sexually transmitted disease
- Violence/Crime: Several gunfights; people are shot; throats are slit; suicide by gunshot; a man is whipped; a man thrown off a balcony is shown hitting the pavement below; blood splattered on walls; a woman slaps a man; a car is forced off a bridge; skeletons cover the ground; a tooth dislodged during a bar fight; vomiting
- Religion: Discussion of divine revelation; a character says death is a door; a description of an afterlife as "a better world" where people can wait for loved ones; discussion of past lives and future lives; depiction of demonic figure planting bad thoughts within a man; images of a goddess
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Publication date: October 26, 2012