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"CLOUD ATLAS"
(2012) (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama/Sci-fi/Comedy: Acts of love, rage, kindness and more ripple through reincarnated souls as well as time from the past through to the present and well into the future.
PLOT:
It's 1849, and young attorney Adam Ewing (JIM STURGESS) has traveled to the South Pacific to conduct business with plantation owner Rev. Horrox (HUGH GRANT). There, he sees how Horrox mistreats his servants, such as Kupaka (KEITH DAVID), as well as slaves, including Autua (DAVID GYASI) who receives quite a whipping for having seen too much of the world and thus not being complacent to live the life of an indentured servant. The latter ends up escaping and stowing away onboard a ship run by Captain Molyneux (JIM BROADBENT) where the slave pleads for Adam to either help or kill him. The attorney chooses the former, but must contend with the ship's physician, Dr. Goose (TOM HANKS), slowly poisoning him. As Adam's eyes are opened about the plight of people of color, that later puts him at odds with his father-in-law, Haskel Moore (HUGO WEAVING), while that man's daughter, Tilda (DOONA BAE), must decide which man is right.

It's 1936 and young composer Robert Frobisher (BEN WHISHAW) has left both England and his lover, Rufus Sixsmith (JAMES D'ARCY), to travel to Scotland where he'll serve as an apprentice to renowned composer Vyvyan Ayrs (JIM BROADBENT). While the latter wants the former to write down melodies the old composer hears in his mind, Robert is writing what he'll hope will be his masterpiece, the Cloud Atlas Sextet. After having a secret fling with Vyvyan's younger wife, Jocasta (HALLE BERRY), Robert then finds himself at growing odds with his mentor. An act of desperation then results in Robert needing the assistance of an inn manager (TOM HANKS), all while the composer contemplates his place in both the world and time.

It's 1973, and Luisa Rey (HALLE BERRY) is a San Francisco based journalist striving to live up to the reporting integrity of her late father. When she meets the elderly Rufus Sixsmith (JAMES D'ARCY), she realizes he's harboring a big secret. Luisa eventually learns that sticking her nose into corporate corruption -- in this case, CEO Lloyd Hooks (HUGH GRANT) planning on allowing a nuclear power plant to fail to further his business gains elsewhere -- has its downsides. While she gets help from plant employee Isaac Sachs (TOM HANKS) and her father's friend from the war, Joe Napier (KEITH DAVID), she must contend with hitman Bill Smoke (HUGO WEAVING) being sent to silence her and her accomplices.

It's 2012, and Timothy Cavendish (JIM BROADBENT) is a small-time English book publisher who hasn't seen much success. That is, until his client, Scottish thug author Dermot Hoggins (TOM HANKS)< throws a literary critic over a balcony to his death. That results in wild book sales, but also Hoggins' associates wanting a huge cut of the action. As a result, Timothy goes to his wealthy brother, Denholme (HUGH GRANT), for help. But due to Timothy having had a past affair with Denholme's wife, the rich man fools Timothy into believing he's going to a safe hotel when in reality he's been signed into a nursing home from where there's no escape due to the likes of the imposing Nurse Noakes (HUGO WEAVING). From that point on, Timothy and others there plot to make their big break.

It's 2144, and Neo Seoul has risen above the mostly flooded ruins of old Seoul. There, various genetically engineered women, including Sonmi-451 (DOONA BAE) and Yoona-939 (XUN ZHOU), are slaves in a totalitarian society where they serve "purebloods" in restaurants such as one run by Seer Rhee (HUGH GRANT) who takes after-hours liberties with the likes of Yoona-939. She's eventually had enough of being treated that way and instills thoughts of independence and freedom in Sonmi-451's mind. That's further heightened by resistance fighter Hae-Joo Chang (JIM STURGESS) -- serving rebellion leader An-Kor Apis (KEITH DAVID) -- who frees the young woman and tries to get her to become the figurehead of an anti-government movement, something government Archivist (JAMES D'ARCY) later questions Sonmi-451 about.

It's 2346 and aged goat herder Zachry (TOM HANKS) is looking back at his life in post-apocalyptic Hawaii, particularly the year 2321 when he hid while marauding invaders led by the Kona Chief (HUGH GRANT) slaughtered some of his fellow villagers. As a result, he's repeatedly tormented by a demon-like inner voice, visually represented by the creepy Old Georgie (HUGO WEAVING), that further shakes his confidence and primitive life existence alongside his sister, Rose (XUN ZHOU), their abbess (SUSAN SARANDON), and other villagers. A less feared visitor arrives in the form of Meronym (HALLE BERRY), a Prescient from a more advanced and technologically equipped civilization. She's in search of a guide to lead her to a lost colony and something there that could save humanity. Zachry is initially hesitant, especially with Old Georgie filling him with lies and fear, but the goat herder eventually agrees, a decision that will end up shaking and forever changing his world.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Compared to traditional movie critics, writing parental movie reviews is a more labor intensive endeavor. After all, in addition to commenting on a film's artistic merits (or lack thereof), there's also the listing of all potentially objectionable content, as well as a breakdown of the various cast members as potential role models.

Usually, that latter part is a fairly straightforward element where the letters of the performer's name are used to designate them when noting what their characters do or say. For instance, Tom Hanks becomes "TH" and Halle Berry is noted as "HB." But what would happen if multiple performers would each play multiple characters with different names across different times?

That's the dilemma I faced when sitting down for the nearly three-hour, time jumping cross-genre "Cloud Atlas" where Tom, Halle and many others appear as different characters across the years of 1849, 1936, 1972, 2012, 2144, 2321 and 2346, sometimes with names like Sonmi-451, Vyvyan Ayrs and such that don't exactly roll off the tongue or the end of one's pen with relative ease.

An ambitious if flawed epic that will likely divide viewers and critics alike, the film is based on the novel of the same name by David Mitchell and took not one, not two, but three directors to pull off. Working from their own screenplay adaptation of the author's work, Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run") and siblings Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski (formerly Larry back when they made the "Matrix" trilogy), the filmmakers reportedly split up the storytelling duties that include a mid 19th century sailing trip dealing with slavery, a pre-WWII European setting about composers, journalistic reporting on corporate corruption in San Francisco of the 1970s, a comedy in present day London, technology of the future in 22nd century Seoul, and 24th century post-apocalyptic Hawaii.

That might sound quite disparate in terms of time, genre, tone and subject matter, not to mention a bit pretentious in terms of applying a universal, all-encompassing logic to the separate yet connected stories and trying to pull all of that off. I have to save this was one of my most anticipated movies of 2012, especially after seeing the original, long-form trailer that simply blew me away, but understandably had me curious if it would be a cinematic masterpiece or a bumbled failure of one degree or another.

Thankfully, it leans more toward the former than the latter, but does suffer from some flaws that stymie its potential greatness. Beyond looking like something akin to a more ambitious and audacious second coming of the metaphysical reincarnation flop, "The Fountain" (with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz), the plethora of storylines does prevent -- despite the 170-some minute runtime -- any of them from feeling fully fleshed out.

The constant jumping back and forth and then some between the various timelines doesn't exactly help matters. And having the same actors play different parts (sometimes disguised to the point of being barely perceivable) -- while necessary for the story's themes, discussed below -- might end up being distracting to one degree or another. That could be from being perceived as a gimmick or simply something that takes the viewer out of the proceedings due to spotting or attempting to recognize the various performers in their various parts.

As a result, we're never given the time to fully connect with the characters as much as we should have for full emotional impact. In addition, some of the emotional quality that is present is forced into the proceedings via voice-over narration (usually in the form of verbalization of letters and such) -- along with the thematic elements -- and thus comes off as the lazy way out of storytelling.

That said, I appreciated the karma-based themes that revolve around a person's actions affecting what's essentially their reincarnated souls in other bodies down the line through time. The old sayings of "What goes around comes around" and "Karma's a bitch" certainly apply here as the various characters change for the better and worse over the various temporal settings and thus must deal with the hand dealt them by their past selves.

Technical credits are solid across the board (that cover a wide variety of period looks) while the performances are all good, even if some viewers and critics might see some as being a bit over the top. That could include Hanks playing a thuggish author who gets his revenge on a literary critic for a bad review or Hugo Weaving playing a nurse along the lines of Nurse Ratched from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

In the end, I appreciated the effort, found the themes intriguing, and enjoyed various aspects throughout. But as an overall experience, I wasn't ever emotionally touched enough to be blown away by this ambitious undertaking. Perhaps a second viewing -- where I wouldn't have to keep track of who's who and what's what -- might elicit a greater response (and certainly would allow for greater inspection of how the various souls evolve over the times). As it stands after an initial viewing, "Cloud Atlas" is good but not great. It rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed October 22, 2012 / Posted October 26, 2012


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