Cloud Atlas – 2012

Writers and Directors Larry and Andy Wachowski, Tom Tykwer
Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Zhou Xun, Keith David, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant
Based on Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

If there’s one thing I learned from the time tripping global opus known as Cloud Atlas, it’s that no matter when he exists and whatever makeup they put on him, Hugo Weaving will always be a villain in some form or fashion.  In no less than 6 characters portrayed, not one of them shows a redeeming character value.  The closest one can get is in the 1936 “Letters from Zedelghem” story, where he plays someone who introduced one of the Halle  Berry characters, Jocasta, to that segment’s Jim Broadbent character Vyvyan Ayrs.   The rest of the actors in the film fare a little better in what amounts to a sprawling story that has the ambition to achieve everything, but at least reaches some of it.

There are several engaging movements throughout the film as the overarching thread keeps everything together by a logic which reveals itself more clearly at some times than it does at others.  The overall effect is watchable, for the talent on-screen and behind it.  It feels as though there are several parts missing to bring the theme of our interconnected gifts and foibles as human beings to fruition.  This is not to say any or all of it is too vague to be understood.  It certainly does bite off more than can be chewed.

To go into any of the plot sections would be foolish.  Suffice to say each of these segments have one thing or another to do with human bondage and prey in its many forms.  The story weaves effortlessly throughout periods of time, spoken and scenic lines in one segment moving smoothly into another.  The effect is often breathtaking, but only occasionally falls flat.

The effects are spectacular throughout, often blending right into absurd humor often seen in Wachowski films.  A particular favorite is a gangster (played by Hanks) giving his opinion of a critic’s analysis of his autobiography.  Then we have some enthralling fire-fights and chases which could only be Wachowski.  The Tykwer segments (1936, 1973, 2012) tend to have less of the effects, but the humor fits in completely with what we’ve become used to with the brothers.

Overall, the acting is impressive as it can be, for what amounts to 75% cameos.  Especially moving is Whishaw’s composer Robert Frobisher, even if his ending makes no real sense as presented here.  Let’s just say the shackles were only as effective as the reach of an old codger.  Hanks as the evil Dr. Henry Goose is a nice about turn for our erstwhile Bosom Buddy. His Zachry is effective, if for sheer sticktoitiveness than anything else.  James D’Arcy has one of the few characters that go from one segment to another, and his performance has an apt nuance.  Jim Sturgess’ does well as Adam Ewing and Hae-Joo Chang, even if the latter’s make up job is as laughable as any of the other Caucasian actors put into Asian “yellow” face.  Let’s just say it’s always a pleasure to see Keith David.

Halle Berry is surprisingly good here in a couple of roles.  Most notably as Luisa Rey, an investigative journalist in 1973 and Meronym in 2321.  To be honest, it’s hard to expect much from her, since the best acting she ever did prior to this was her Oscar acceptance speech (75 years!).  Still, her grace shows through in the latter role and her pluck is mostly believable in the former.  It certainly helps to have Keith David covering your back, though, I can tell you.

Overall, this is a good film that tries to rise above cliche and new age bull.  One can’t truly blame any filmmaker for overreach.  What you can do, is watch this film and decide for yourself whether it is worthy of esteem or just fun to watch.  One could not be blamed in feeling its a little of both.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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