Cloud Atlas

Oct 27, 2012

Cloud Atlas
Grade: B+
Directors: Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), Andy Wachowski (The Matrix), Lana Wachowski (The Matrix)
Screenplay: Tykwer, Wachowskis, from David Mitchell novel
Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry
Rating: R
Runtime: 172 Min
by John DeSando

“Just trying to understand why we keep making the same mistakes.”    Luisa Rey (Halle Berry)

What did I expect from filmmakers responsible for Matrix and Run Lola Run? A complicated, philosophical treatise on humanity—of course! But Cloud Atlas is more than that: It’s a convoluted thriller with intersecting segments that eventually spell out humanity’s penchant for good and evil, its ability to reinvent itself, and its undying connection down through the ages and into the future: We make the same mistakes, we get better at them, and we sacrifice to make the world a better place.

As director/writers Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski spin the filmed version of David Mitchell’s murderous, new-age, sci-fi novel, they create individual stories of oppression and redemption, tied together by the common bond of humanity and some very smooth cross cutting. The six stories, covering the five centuries through 2024, treat slavery of several kinds, care of the elderly, corporate crime, and a robotic working class up to the aftermath of the apocalypse.

Although the first hour of the almost three hours is confusing and slow, eventually the characters become recognizable and comprehensible (helped subtly by the same actors playing different parts) to the extent that we care what happens to them and ultimately the human race. Stay for the credits to identify the multiple roles each actor plays (some may surprise you).

Going into the film, I had a suspicion that I was going to see a version of Terrence Malick’s abstract Tree of Life.  Au contraire, Cloud Atlas is an action film about good guys from the past and the future running from bad guys; the key, however, is that everything that happens has ramifications for the past or the future. The weakness of this grand action is that there are too many characters and actions, weakening each with the overlay of the other.

Notice I haven’t even tried to explain the plot although all strands intersect in humanity’s enduring struggle for freedom be it the 24th century post-apocalyptic survivor Zachary (Tom Hanks) joining with a visiting space lady (Halle Berry) or an 1849 runaway slave (David Gyasi) aided by a young sailor (Jim Sturgess). In each segment, slavery of some sort is the catalyst for rebellion. It’s hard not to see contemporary parallels in warring states of Africa or even in the great divide between the wealthy and the other percent in the US.

Cloud Atlas is not on Cloud Nine: Its adventures may be too many, but its themes are consistent, universal, and real and its actors some of the best of the day.  It beats Kevin James’s Zookeeper.

John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at
He also appears on Fox 28’s Man Panel
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