Cloud Atlas is one of those movies which make it incredibly difficult to give a synopsis. Especially without giving away any spoilers. But I’ll do my best.
The main premise of the movie is that everything is connected. A composer living in the 1930s is reading a journal in his downtime. The journal is the writings of a slave trader on his voyage across the ocean in 1849. The composer also writes letters to his lover. His lover has a report detailing the dangers of a nuclear power plant, which he plans to give to a reporter in the 1970s. A literary agent in 2012 is committed to a retirement home after asking to borrow a rather large sum of money from his brother. His ordeal is made into a movie, which is watched by a clone in New Seoul in 2144. A primitive tribe must survive in a post-apocalyptic future, learning the truth about their deity.
If this seems a lot to keep straight, you’re right. When the movie starts, everything is pile together in a disparate array of story lines. You will feel completely lost. There are so many moving parts. So many characters. Add to that, the fact that the same actors (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant are the major players) are recycled into different characters in each time frame. There’s no way you can make sense of all that is going on.
As the movie progresses, however, everything starts to gel. All the storylines start to come together. They start to make sense. You don’t feel lost as to what timeline you’re in. It becomes easy to separate the characters. You see subtle hints that carry you from one scene to the next. It is rather elegantly done.
Based on the novel by David Mitchell, and adapted for the screen by Lana and Andy Wachowski, it’s pretty much what you expect from them. There is a flow between streams of consciousness, between time and space. (Much like The Matrix.) And it works.
As expected, the cast works very well together. Given the cast, that’s hardly surprising. They are mostly a group of seasoned veterans. My only real questioning on character choice is casting Tom Hanks as the gangster-turned-author that just doesn’t seem to fit.
The makeup, much like that in J. Edgar, is a bit hit or miss. Some is incredibly well done. Some verges on ridiculous. (Hugo Weaving in the retirement home scene is just, well, you’ll understand when you see it.) Overall, though, it’s pretty good.The story line, while pieced together from several plots you’ve seen before, are put together in a rather original way. I’ve not read the book, but I’m curious now. My biggest complaint here is the post-apocalyptic island tribe arc. The language the tribe speaks is as primitive as they are. Bordering on infantile. That can be excused, partly. But it is to the point of being almost unintelligible. And how does Halle Berry’s mainland character picks up the language so quickly and become fluent so easily?
There are quite a few scenes, namely the escape from the nursing home, that are downright funny. But it’s not a comedy. You see scenes of how slaves were treated that make you wonder how humans could have treated each other so poorly. There are scenes where the general public is referred to as “Consumer,” calling out our materialistic attitudes. One underlying message is how do you react to the world around you? “You have to do what you can’t not do.”
The movie is essentially about the afterlife and where you go when you die. This is why the actors are reused over and over. I think this is the souls re emerging through time. One of Ms. Berry’s characters makes a comment about recognizing the obscure symphony written 40 years prior.
It’s a bit long, at 2 hours 43 minutes. But the time goes by quickly. It’s a pretty well put together film. I would recommend seeing it, if for nothing else than to get away from all of the mainstream recycled/remade films you could choose. That said, you could wait for On Demand or RedBox. There’s nothing that’s so Earth-shattering or groundbreaking that you need to rush to the theater. But definitely worth a viewing.