Review: CLOUD ATLAS (2012) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Review: CLOUD ATLAS (2012)

RATING: 2.5/5

David Mitchell's massive, 509-page award-winning novel Cloud Atlas was widely considered as "unfilmable". But three directors -- Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer -- are daring enough to step up the game and delivers one of the most ambitious projects ever made in recent memory. Whether you have read the book or even come to know the premise, it's impossible to ignore the existence of CLOUD ATLAS. The result is undeniably beautiful, but bloated mess of epic filmmaking that doesn't really bring the best out of acclaimed visionary directors of the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer. 

Spanning over six separate eras (1849, 1936, 1973, 2012, 2144 and 2321) with six different stories overlapping one after another, CLOUD ATLAS begins in the South Pacific Ocean in 1849 where a young American lawyer named Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) arrive at the Chatham Islands to seal a business deal with Reverend Giles Horrox (Hugh Grant) for his father-in-law, Haskell Moore (Hugo Weaving). When Ewing is welcomed aboard a ship alongside with the cunning Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks), he stumbles upon a mistreated escaped slave named Autua (David Gyasi) who tries to convince him to let him join the ship crew as a freeman. In the meantime, Goose has a wicked agenda of his own in an attempt to slowly poison Ewing and claims it is a cure for parasitic worm because he's aiming to steal Ewing's valuables.

In 1936 Cambridge, England, a 23-year-old bisexual English musician named Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) bids farewell to his lover, Rufus Sixsmith (James D'Arcy), to work as an apprentice to a famous composer, Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent). Frobisher subsequently finds time and inspiration to compose his own masterpiece, "The Cloud Atlas Sextet". Ayrs likes Frobisher's newly-composed classical music so much until he wishes to take all the credit. When Frobisher refuses to cooperate, Ayrs threatens to expose Frobisher's disgraceful background. However, their subsequent disagreement leads to an unexpected act of violence.

In 1973 San Francisco, ambitious journalist Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) has a chance encounter with an older Sixsmith (also James D'Arcy), who is now a nuclear physicist. They first come across to each other when they stuck in the elevator due to a power outrage. Shortly after their meeting, Sixsmith is found dead. Rey starts to do some investigation and subsequently discovers that Sixsmith's death has something to do with a huge conspiracy theory connecting Big Oil with nuclear power chief Lloyd Hooks (Hugh Grant).

In 2012 London, an eccentric 65-year-old publisher Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) finds himself unexpectedly shipped off by his brother Denholme (Hugh Grant) to a nursing home ruled by the tyrannical Nurse Noakes (Hugo Weaving).

In 2144 futuristic Neo Seoul, Korea, a genetically-engineered fabricant Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae) works as a server at a fast-food restaurant. At the beginning of this segment, she is seen being interviewed prior to her execution. During the subsequent flashbacks, she recalls how she is released from her caged life and falls in love with star-crossed rebel Hae-Joo Chang (Jim Sturgess).

Lastly in 2321 post-apocalyptic Hawaii, a Polynesian tribesman Zachry (Tom Hanks) is visited by Meronym (Halle Berry), one of the last members of the technology-based civilization. Both of them embark on a treacherous journey in search of Cloud Atlas, a communications station where she is able to send a message to people who have left Earth and now live on other planets.

No doubt the premise alone is intriguing enough to check out what's the big fuss surrounding this movie. CLOUD ATLAS is a movie filled with big ideas, but the Wachoswki siblings and Tom Tykwer's adapted screenplay is too heavy-handed, yet strangely hollow. That's not all, their non-linear storytelling approach is sometimes difficult to follow if one doesn't pay close attention. Meanwhile, the pacing is uneven, making this nearly three-hour movie almost like a chore to sit through.

While their screenplays are half-realized, their directions are equally lackluster. Sure, there are flashes of brilliance somewhere in the movie but not nearly enough to justify this as a satisfying cinematic experience. The 2144 segment, which obviously directed by the Wachowski siblings, is easily the most entertaining sequence here, even though the action are not up to the high standards of THE MATRIX trilogy. In the 2012 segment, directed by Tom Tykwer, the entire scene involving Timothy attempts to escape from the nursing home is suitably lighthearted, yet funny enough it's almost like revisiting ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST.

Cast-wise, all the actors are gamely playful in their multiple roles. But it's really baffling why the filmmakers have to be so stereotypical for choosing white actor to play Asian role (e.g. Jim Sturgess in an unconvincing makeup as Hae-Joo Chang). Jim Broadbent is particularly a joy to watch for as the eccentric Timothy Cavendish, while it's fun to see Hugo Weaving in drag playing Nurse Noakes. Doona Bae gives a heartfelt performance as Sonmi-451, while Tom Hanks delivers a highly enthusiastic performance in a fake but entertaining Irish accent as the gangster author, Dermot Hoggins.

Blessed with a $100 million-budget tag (in which CLOUD ATLAS is among the most expensive independently-financed movies ever made), all the technical credits, ranging from its elaborate production designs to its special effects are visually stunning.

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