Dec 10, 2012

[Movies] Cloud Atlas (2012)

Over the years, a lot of folks talk about various books that seem impossible to adapt into a movie. But as movie making technology has involved in terms of special effects, make-up and even just sheer creative vision, thus more and more of these "impossible" movies have managed to hit theaters anyway.

It's rather inspiring in that regard how these filmmakers defy all odds, risk the stigma of extremely high fan expectations and still manage to release these movies. And despite how much people expect a lot of these movies to fail, many times we have been pleasantly surprised and even overwhelmed in awe and wonder.

This was one such movie - another case of a book that I had not read getting the Hollywood nod. And while initially I was rather concerned how the trailer seemed to feature the gimmick of the make-up more than just the story, it in no way prepared me for just how amazing this movie would actually be.

So while I can totally understand how this movie could have been deemed "impossible" to adapt into a film, the movie wasn't just created - it was crafted to be downright interstellar.

Synopsis: Cloud Atlas is a 2012 science fiction movie written and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski along with Tom Tykwer. It was based on a book written by David Mitchell.

The movie follows 6 different interconnected stories set in 6 different time periods starting from the 19th century all the way to the far-flung future. It's not easy to figure out how to properly summarize this movie and the different time periods accurately without spoiling things too much, but I'll do my best. The official synopsis barely begins to capture what this movie is truly about:
An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.

If I were to run through the stories quickly, it would go something like this...

  • In 1849, we meet a lawyer named Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) has traveled to the Chatham Islands on business. He must bring back an important contract and here he meets Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks).
  • In 1936, we follow Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) - a talented bisexual musical composer and sometime prostitute. He manages to get himself apprenticed to Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent) and together we work to compose what could be a most amazing piece of music indeed.
  • In 1973, journalist Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) is investigating a potential cover-up around the new nuclear reactor. But everyone who tries to help her seems to turn up dead.
  • In 2012, an elderly Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) manages to come across some money as a rather unorthodox author that he supports hits it big on the bestseller list. But things take a turn for the worse and Timothy must seek out help from his brother Denholme (Hugh Grant).
  • In 2144, we meet the fabricant Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae) in Neo Seoul.  She is being interviewed prior to her execution and thus we learn her story that starts with her as just a server at a fast-food joint and ends up much bigger than that.
  • And in some undisclosed time period, we meet a tribesman named Zachary (Tom Hanks) who barely survives an attack a rival and extremely violent tribe that takes the life of his brother-in-law.  As he deals with his grief and his guilty, Meronym (Halle Berry) of the Prescients, a far more advanced race, comes to visit the tribe with her own agenda.
Now the primary cast all play multiple roles across the time periods, something that I can't quite elaborate well in that bulleted synopsis above. Through the use of some pretty amazing make-up, each actor is transformed into completely different characters including a few instances of men playing women and vice-versa. And it's not even done cheaply or in a manner that makes things suddenly comical. You just end up accepting who they are as the overall story continues to progress.

The overall story stresses several key concepts across the time periods including the importance of the truth, the purity of artistic creation and the power of love. And they do this by repeating the themes across the various stories, juxtaposing the related sequences across one another and resulting in a wonderfully complex narrative tapestry. And while repetition seems like a very old trick to play, the end result is far greater than that and quite masterfully executed.

A special mention needs to go out to Hugo Weaving, who plays a variety of rather similar roles in the movie. And while you might argue that he's just channeling his Agent Smith character from the Matrix movies, in the end he did things wonderfully despite whatever was asked of him. And yes, this involves some very interesting make-up prosthetic appliances.

And yes, I'm a total Ben Whishaw fan ever since I first saw him in Perfume. And including his performance as Q in Skyfall, I'm very happy to see him in more movies. His is an acting career that is more worth following.

I'll be the first to admit that Cloud Atlas is not an easy movie to appreciate right of the bat. It involves six different major plot threads that are very tightly interwoven and you don't get little timing markers to identify where you are in the story apart from the very beginning. And since words fail me, all that there is left to do is to rate this movie as a solid 5 "Ah HA!" moments of clarity throughout the movie out of a possible 5.

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  1. I'm curious how the six stories would eventually intertwine. I'm a fan of twisted plots. I should watch this.

  2. Go, go, go! Hurry before the MMFF starts! =P

  3. I watched this last night at Robinson's without looking at the cast and not knowing anything about it. But since I saw you review it (but didn't read your blog until now), I decided to watch.

    Slow and confusing at first since the characters needed to be built but gets awesome later on. I was sad about the gay lovers though. They only existed in one time line unless there was an extra scene post-credits?

    I just hated how a lot of scenes were cut by Robinson's. WTH? They undermine people's intelligence.

  4. We watched at Greenbelt and there were still cuts - darn MTRCB. Sadly no post-credits scene for the lovers - such was the stressed sadness of their particular tale.

    Glad you enjoyed though! Looking forward to the DVD to get the full story, hehe