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Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Cloud Atlas

Films that jump between time periods often face the challenge of maintaining realism without seeming silly--films that jump time periods while using the same actors are usually limited to Lifetime because hey, even with the right makeup it can, potentially, come off as ridiculous. However, Cloud Atlas manages to do both without looking 100% absurd. While some of the film's makeup jobs are laughable, it is generally successful in translating David Mitchell's novel to the screen.

The film features 6 different story lines, all interrelated and all mostly interesting. In 1849, a lawyer (Jim Sturgess) on a slave ship is poisoned by the ship's doctor. He and his wife (Doona Bae) condemn her family's part in the slave trade. In the next story, Robert (Ben Whishaw) takes a job as an amanuensis to a great composer, who later blackmails him for being bisexual. In 1973, journalist Luisa Rey tries to solve the mystery of a murdered nuclear physicist. In 2012, Timothy Cavendish, a publisher in his sixties (played by Jim Broadbent) is confined to a retirement home against his will after a falling out with a client. 2144 in "Neo Seoul," Sonmi 451 (Doona Bae) goes against protocol and becomes part of a revolution against the government that clones and butchers women. 2321, Zachary (Tom Hanks) lives in a seemingly "primitive" society that holds up Sonmi as a goddess (presumably for her sacrifice to maintain the freedoms of her society in 2144). He meets Meronym (Halle Berry), a member of the "Prescients," who possess remnants of the technology that existed before the revolution.

This all sounds very complicated, and it is. The film is confusing at times, and the try-too-hard makeup can be off-putting. However, given the source material, this adaptation is ideal. The cinematography by Frank Griebe and John Toll is astounding. The performances are very well acted, with Ben Whishaw, Keith David, Hugo Weaving and Doona Bae being standouts. I usually do not enjoy films that are more than 160 minutes in length--that typically means the editor was fired or the director has a god complex, or a trilogy was nixed by the production company. However, I am very pleased that I watched Cloud Atlas in the theater. Every scene I dreamed in my head while reading Heinlein and Asimov and Dick and Le Guin (and Mitchell's source material)--well, all those imaginings were present in the film. It was beautiful, emotional, tragic and victorious. In particular, the scenes in Neo Seoul reminded me of both Blade Runner and Ira Levin's novel The Stepford Wives. While The Wachowskis have not made the world's best film in Cloud Atlas, I truly believe they have made the best adaptation possible given the challenging nature of the source material. I cannot wait to watch it again.


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