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Review: Cloud Atlas (Tiff 2012)

Sep. 11, 2012by: Chris Bumbray

PLOT: A multi-narrative epic, following the evolution of a group of souls throughout hundreds of years- from the adventures of a 19th century slave trader, to two dueling composers in pre-WW2 Britain, to a journalist fighting a corrupt corporation in the 1970's, to a synthetic human in 24th century Seoul, to a post-apocalyptic tribesman who battles to protect his family.

REVIEW: Of all the films to play at this year's edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, certainly none is as ambitious as CLOUD ATLAS. An unconventional omnibus of a film, not only featuring the work of multiple directors (it's a collaboration between the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer), but featuring a core group of actors playing not only multiple characters, but multiple races, and even- in one case, multiple sexes. I suppose the message here is that under the skin, we're all the same- whether we're hero, villain, or in-between.

A grand statement, you have to admire CLOUD ATLAS (based on David Mitchell's novel), although to say it'll be divisive is an understatement. At the press screening I attended, it was obvious that half the audience thought they were watching some kind of masterpiece, while the other half couldn't wait for the credits to roll. I totally disagree with the latter, as whatever it is, CLOUD ATLAS is certainly never boring.

But, I can't quite proclaim it as masterpiece, as anything so layered demands multiple viewings to truly decipher. But I did think CLOUD ATLAS was damn good, although I had issues with it. Given that it tells half a dozen stories, and feels like not only six movies in one, but six movies going on AT THE SAME TIME, CLOUD ATLAS is remarkably easy to follow. Of the stories, there were some I liked more than others, with the Wachowskis and Tykwer tackling multiple genres- from comedy, to action, to sci-fi, to drama. Everything is covered here.

Of all the actors, to me Tom Hanks is the one who deserves the most praise, as the guy goes full-on in each of his roles. Granted, his acting in CLOUD ATLAS is distinctly not naturalistic, and big- but in a film which is virtually all broad-strokes, it has to be. Hanks gets to play everything from a sadistic doctor on a slave ship, to a cockney gangster, a humble scientist, and most significantly, a tribesman who has to overcome his own fear to protect his family and the woman he loves. It's this tribal story, where Hanks and Halle Berry speak in a type of post-English, English- which may be ridiculed (with “the truth” instead being “the true-true” and so on), but really- you just have to go with it. I certainly did, and I'm not the least cynical guy, so I suppose that bodes well.

Like Hanks, Halle Berry is probably the second most featured player, with her co-starring part in the tribal section, and her lead role as a mid-seventies investigative journalist being the most prominent. Of them all though, Jim Sturgess probably has the most challenging part. In addition to playing a slave-trader and tribesman, he also has to play a futuristic Korean warrior- and handle the huge, futuristic action setpieces. While I really hated his Korean makeup (it looked goofy), he does very well in each role. Hugo Weaving probably has the most fun, with him showing up in each story as a force of evil- ranging from a hit-man, an evil (female) nurse, and possibly even the devil himself. Jim Broadbent provides most of the laughs, with his primary section of the film, where he's a doddering old publisher committed to an old-folks home by his unscrupulous brother (Hugh Grant, in one of his half-dozen small parts).

So whatever you think of CLOUD ATLAS, one can't argue that it truly does have something for everyone- whether you like futuristic action, brutal warfare, zany comedy/slapstick, romance, drama or any other conceivable genre. While it's probably a little overwhelming upon it's first viewing ( I hope to re-review this once I get to see it a second time), my first impression of CLOUD ATLAS is a strongly positive one, even if I can't call it an all-out masterpiece. But- it may evolve into one without the Wachowskis or Tykwer having to change a frame. Or it could be a disaster. Only time will tell.

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