REVIEW – Cloud Atlas

Review by Vives Anunciacion
Published Inquirer Libre December 10, 2012

Cloud Atlas
Directed by Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski
Based on the novel by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas is six stories in different genres spanning different time lines all repetitively reinforcing themes of karmic reincarnations and universality. Key word: repetitive.

The first is the story of lawyer Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) who writes his journal as his ship sits near a Pacific island in the year 1850. The second story is from Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw), who writes to his lover Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy) as he travels to Belgium in 1931 to work as apprentice to famed composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent). Frobisher is composing his first masterpiece, the Cloud Atlas Sextet. Meantime, he can’t seem to find the other half of the novel, “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing.”

The third is the mystery about journalist Louisa Rey (Halle Berry) who investigates the death of Rufus Sixsmith, an elderly scientist who worked in a new nuclear power plant. Fourth is the comedy about bankrupt book publisher Timothy Cavendish, who ends up in retirement home he can’t escape from. One time as he tries to run away, he shouts, “Soylent green is people.” If you know the twist in that sci-fi classic, that quote makes sense in the next story line.

The fifth story is in the year 2144 during the interrogation of the rebel Sonmi 451 (Doona Bae), a genetically engineered clone (“fabricant”) in Neo-Seoul where fabricants work as slaves to pure-breds. The last story is about Zachry (Tom Hanks) and his peaceful primitive village, remnants of humanity in the far distant future who worship the goddess Sonmi.

Directed by three competent filmmakers, Cloud Atlas is an ambitious jumbled contraction of the book. The result is almost the same, but the spirit isn’t quite similar. There’s a leisurely exposition to the language of the book that allows the reader to relish the varying genres of the six stories. The film is mostly cut to, cut to, cut to next.

Casting the film such that the same actors play different roles in the six stories is the film’s main reinforcement of the karmic cycle. Awkward at first, especially the way make-up alters the actors’ appearances but allows for a bit of recognition.

Overall the film simply doesn’t soar, no matter how immensely profound the themes are supposedly. There’s pretty good acting and visuals here and there, but they’re all lost in a jumble of stories, characters and “Who’s that actor playing now?” moments.

There was a quick but for me significant cut in the middle of the film that didn’t look like a technical glitch, and occurred in the middle of the montage when the Cloud Atlas Sextet is revealed in its full orchestral glory.

The Sextet is the musical equivalent to the the film’s multiple linking themes (like the comet tattoo.) Bits and pieces of the piece are revealed as it is composed, and when it is finished, the montage is shown. That cut is similar to watching the referee give Juan Manuel Marquez a standing 8 count, but cutting to commercial at count #6, then returning to #7. It’s a quick cut that doesn’t change the outcome, but a cut nonetheless. I can’t wait to see the film in DVD, so maybe a small boxoffice will hurry that option up.

At which point, for this particular film, I couldn’t understand the difference in PG-13, R-13 and R-16 ratings, other than commercial viability. Why R-13, and why the cut? Why not R-16 with no cuts? The situation comes from a flawed system that dictates what should or should not be seen by the audience, under the guise of morality or boxoffice appeal, or both. Then again, it’s a business.


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