‘Cloud Atlas’ a cinematic spectacle

Article Published: Nov. 1, 2012 | Modified: Nov. 1, 2012
‘Cloud Atlas’ a cinematic spectacle

From left, Jim Broadbent and Ben Whishaw star in 'Cloud Atlas.'

Some films are meant to be watched; others are meant to be experienced.

“Cloud Atlas” is all of the above, one of those movies that asks viewers to sit back with open minds, watch and experience something that’s nothing short of a cinematic spectacle.

“The Matrix” may have been their masterwork (we’ll just leave those unfortunate sequels be), but directors Andy and Lana Wachowski, with co-director Tom Twyker (“Run Lola Run”), have created something more ambitious than casting Keanu Reaves in a leading role.

Based on the novel by David Mitchell, “Cloud Atlas” is a tale that spans generations, weaving together six seemingly separate stories that serve to prove that people are inherently bound to each other through time and space, where certain choices create ripple effects that can affect – for better or worse – the past, present and future.

Call it Zen, reincarnation, karma, what-have-you, it’s a concept the filmmakers don’t beat over the audience’s collective head, rather encouraging viewers to simply take it as it comes – a sentiment even suggested during the film’s first five minutes.

Set in different settings and times, “Cloud Atlas” boasts an impressive cast playing multiple roles, races and genders, as their characters’ spiritual journey takes them through time and space.

It’s all somewhat of a jumble at first, but part of the experience of “Cloud Atlas” (apart from the striking visuals and sweeping cinematography) is seeing it come together in ways unexpected, the unanticipated connections and actions that gradually make villains into heroes, the egotistical humble and the meek strong.

“Cloud Atlas” jumps between times and genres, introducing us to these characters in all their iterations.

In 1849, idealistic lawyer Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess, “Across the Universe”) helps escaped slave Autua (David Gyasi, “The Dark Knight Rises”) stow away on a cross-Pacific journey, while suffering from a mysterious malady and keeping a journal of his experience.

That journal, later published, is read in 1936 by struggling composer Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw, “The Tempest”), who leaves his lover, Sixsmith (James D’Arcy, “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”), to work for famous, but fading, composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent, “Hot Fuzz”) and his cuckolding wife (Halle Berry, “Monster’s Ball”), meanwhile creating his own musical masterpiece, “The Cloud Atlas Sextet.” Frobisher explains to Ayrs that he wrote the sextet, while envisioning them meeting again and again in different times as different people.

In 1973, reporter Luisa Rey (Berry) is investigating a crooked nuclear power company and its greedy CEO (Hugh Grant, “About a Boy”), when she encounters an aged Sixsmith and later discovers Frobisher’s letters to his long-lost lover, prompting her to seek a copy of “The Cloud Atlas Sextet,” which she’s certain she’s somehow heard before, despite there only being a handful of copies left in existence.

In 2012, eccentric British publisher Timothy Cavendish (Broadbent) receives Rey’s manuscript novelization of her nuclear mystery, prompting him to take on additional clients, including a roughneck author (Tom Hanks, “Forrest Gump”), who murders a critic after a negative review. This, in turn, causes his book sales to skyrocket, making Cavendish a rich man and the envy of Hanks’ author’s hoodlum friends.

In order to escape his debt, Cavendish’s vengeful brother (Grant) duplicitously checks him into a nursing home, which proves a rather ghastly ordeal, which Cavendish later writes about.

His writings are turned into a popular movie, “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish,” in which an actor (Hanks) portrays the beleaguered publisher and becomes a hit in a dystopian 2144 Korea, in which clones are bred to work service jobs. One such clone, Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae, “The Host”), is inspired by the film and dares to think differently.

This leads into the final part of the sextet, a post-apocalyptic Hawaii in 2321, in which cowardly tribesman Zachry (Hanks) must overcome his fears to help Meronym (Berry), a member of the last vestiges of advanced civilization, seek out ancient technology on the island.

And that’s putting it simply. “Cloud Atlas” is a lot to digest, but the Wachowskis and Twyker make it easy to swallow, provided viewers approach it with an open mind and a degree of patience. As Broadbent’s Cavendish explains in the film’s first five minutes, “There is method to this madness.”

That said, there’s still some madness. “Cloud Atlas” is an ambitious film with a grand scope, but it doesn’t always live up to expectations. The makeup, used heavily to portray these souls in their many iterations, is sometimes distracting, like with Hugo Weaving (“The Lord of the Rings”) playing a futuristic Korean agent. But most of the time, it hits the mark, making some of the performers nearly unrecognizable.

And while it never quite achieves the epic status implied by its very concept, the filmmakers can’t be faulted for trying. With such a wealth of material from a novel that was previously considered “unfilmable,” this is to be expected. Fortunately, the Wachowskis and Twyker keep the proceedings so visually compelling and the storytelling so intriguing that viewers can ignore its nearly three-hour runtime.

Consider it part of the experience.

“Cloud Atlas,” Rated R for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.

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