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CLOUD ATLAS (directors/writers: Lana Wachowski/Andy Wachowski/Tom Tykwer; screenwriter: based on the novel by David Mitchell; cinematographers: John Toll/Frank Griebe; editor: Alexander Berner; music: Tom Tykwer/Johnny Klimek/Reinhold Heil; cast: Tom Hanks (Dr. Henry Goose/Hotel Manager/Isaac Sachs/Dermot Hoggins/Cavendish Look-Alike Actor/Zachry), Halle Berry (Native Woman/Jocasta Ayrs/Luisa Rey/Indian Party Guest/Ovid/Meronym), Jim Broadbent (Captain Molyneux/Vyvyan Ayrs/Timothy Cavendish/Korean Musician/Prescient 2), Hugo Weaving (Haskell Moore/Tadeusz Kesselring/Bill Smoke/Nurse Noakes/Boardman Mephi/Old Georgie), Jim Sturgess (Adam Ewing/Poor Hotel Guest/Megan’s Dad/Highlander/Hae-Joo Chang/Adam/Zachry Brother-in-Law), Doona Bae (Tilda/Megan’s Mom/Mexican Woman/Sonmi-451/Sonmi-351/Sonmi Prostitute), Ben Whishaw (Cabin Boy/Robert Frobisher/Store Clerk/Georgette/Tribesman), Keith David (Kupaka/Joe Napier/An-Kor Apis/Prescient), James D’Arcy (Young Rufus Sixsmith/Old Rufus Sixsmith/Nurse James/Archivist), Xun Zhou (Talbot/Hotel Manager/Yoona-939/Rose), David Gyasi (Autua/Lester Rey/Duophysite), Susan Sarandon (Madame Horrox/Older Ursula/Yusouf Suleiman/Abbess), Hugh Grant (the Rev. Giles Horrox/Hotel Heavy/Lloyd Hooks/Denholme Cavendish/Seer Rhee/Kona Chief); Runtime: 173; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Lana Wachowski/Andy Wachowski/Tom Tykwer/Grant Hill/Stefan Arndt; Warner Bros.; 2012-Germany-in English)

“Lacking in coherence, as it tries but fails to juggle six distinct stories through different time periods that cover five centuries.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Based on the unfilmable best-seller 2004 novel by David Mitchell, who used six different writing styles to tell six different stories. The $100 million budget film by the Americans Andy and Lana Wachowski (“Matrix”–with the former sibling Larry, now going as the female Lana) and German filmmaker Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”). The trio’s adaptation of Cloud Atlas is ambitious and has a few striking lyrical moments but is lacking in coherence, as it tries but fails to juggle six distinct stories through different time periods that cover five centuries.

An all-star cast that features Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving and Hugh Grant, play various multiple characters throughout different historical time periods, as the confusing narrative threads weave in and out of each other while in each story the main protagonist has a unique mission in life. The messy and heavy-handed pic paints a risible, gooey, and sentimental New Age portrait of mankind’s quest for tolerance and peace throughout the ages and how the past affects the present, delivering an awkward message of universal linkage that never quite registers with conviction in this bloated complex flick that seems full of itself. In its better moments it asks questions such as “If God created the world, how do we know what we can change and what we must leave inviolate and sacred?”

In the six stories each of the main characters must struggle to overcome their weaknesses, demons and limitations in order prevail and bring light to their age of darkness.

One tale has American white lawyer Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) returning by ship to San Francisco from the South Pacific in 1849 and being treated by a doctor (Tom Hanks) for a brain infection caused by a tropical parasite. The lawyer after recovering helps a stowaway slave (David Gyasi) survive the journey to freedom, and eventually becomes an abolitionist.

A second tale is set in 1936, as the talented young composer Ben Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) abandons his Cambridge lover Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy) to find fame in his field and in Belgium he becomes a musical collaborator with the internationally renown Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent). It turns out that the old composer uses the young one and this leads to tragic consequences for Frobisher and his genius composition of The Cloud Atlas Sextet.

The third story set in 1973 in San Francisco, focuses on Spyglass magazine journalist Luisa Rey (Halle Berry). She is writing a story about possible corruption at a nuclear power plant. To stop her, the slimy plant manager (Hugh Grant) hires a hit man (Hugo Weaving) to kill her. Luisa is helped by Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy), an aging physicist (Frobisher’s lover), Also helping are Isaac Sacks (Tom Hanks), an employee at the nuclear power plant, and Napier (Keith David), who wants to do the right thing.

The fourth story (the film’s only comical and enjoyable one) is set in England in 2012. Publisher Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) makes a killing when one of his authors (Tom Hanks) becomes notorious for tossing a pompous literary critic over a balcony. When the publisher needs money, he asks his brother (Hugh Grant) for a loan and is instead tricked into signing into a prison-like nursing home for the mentally incompetent. There he orchestrates an escape for him a few other prisoners.

The main tale about all humans being connected (and the film’s most unwatchable) takes place in the fifth story, as it tells about a totalitarian society in 2141, Neo-Seoul. Cloned servant, second-class citizen, Sonmi (Doona Bae), gets in trouble with the authorities and is interrogated for having independent thoughts. But she’s saved by freedom fighter (Jim Sturgess), who must do battle against the military forces.

The sixth tale takes place in post-apocalyptic Hawaii in 2331 and 2346 . After the world-wide catastrophe, as Zachry (Tom Hanks), a peasant goat-herder survivor, lives with his family in an isolated rural community that is led by the Abbess (Susan Sarandon), and who worship a goddess named Sonmi. The simple life of Zachry, who only wishes to protect his family from marauding cannibals (led by Hugh Grant), changes when the high-tech more evolved Meronymn (Halle Berry), an emissary from a more advanced community, asks him to risk his life to help her find something at the top of a mountain and he must face the powers of a taunting demon (Hugo Weaving). The message here is that dreams of a peaceful world and end to oppression can come true if mankind learns to live a simple life of truth and love.

So in the end, I guess, Tom Hanks evolves from being a bad guy to a good guy. Anything else to decipher about this enigmatic film is not that clear, unless you read the book and take in its grace of storytelling and its subtleties.

No argument about the correctness of the peaceful message for the need for mankind to find their way in the world through art and the pursuit of freedom, but this bold pseudo-religious and semi-sci-fi film is hard to sit through its long stretches of tedium and unintentional laughable moments (like Hanks as the heavily tattooed Polynesian tribesman talking in pidgin English) without questioning its creators film-making and storytelling ability and without in the end feeling disconnected with such a pretentious arty film.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”