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Cloud Atlas: Cinematic Wonder Seeks Life's Single Universal Truth

Cloud Atlas is a cinematic wonder, succeeding in weaving a cohesive narrator thread through the ages. This film will leave its mark far longer than after the theater lights come up.

★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5 buckets | Matinee and DVD

Rated: R  Violence, language, some drug use and sexuality/nudity

Release Date: October 26, 2012

Runtime: 2 hours 52 minutes

Director: Andy Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski

Writers: Andy Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, based on the best-selling by David Mitchell

Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Keith Davis, James D'Arcy, Xun Zhou, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant

SYNOPSIS: An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.

REVIEW: The Matrix Trilogy writing and directing siblings Lana Wachowski and Andy Wachowski return for a visionary tale that crosses time and space, the past, present, and far future. Joined by veteran writer/director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) who has had experience with warping redundant and overlapping storylines, the Wachowskis may set another precedent of storytelling that changes how movies are created.

Cloud Atlas starts with a storyteller who begins regaling about how those around him came into being and the journey undertaken to get there. Then the clock turns forward — or back? — to the Pacific Islands where a young lawyer Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess, One Day) finishes a contract for the purchase of slaves and property.

Flash forward to 1936 where another young man Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw, The International) at Cambridge flees his responsibilities and the man he loves (James D'Arcy, W.E.) to write sheet music for an aging maestro Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent, The Iron Lady) who he admires and wants to learn from. Four decades later, a young journalist Luisa Rey (Halle Berry, New Year's Eve) working for Spy Glass magazine finds herself embroiled in a conspiracy between Big Oil and Nuclear power.

In the present (our present?) of 2012, a publisher Timothy Cavendish faces disgruntled friends of an incarcerated author Dermot Hoggins (Tom Hanks, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) and flees too hotel at the behest of his brother Denholme (Hugh Grant, The Pirates! Band of Misfits). The hotel turns out to be a residence home for the aged, an incarceration rivaling that of his author in his publishing stable, and requiring an elaborate escape plan. In the 22nd Century, a caste system had been re-established and fabricants have been engineered to serve the upper classes.

A rebellion is underway, requiring a rogue fabricant Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae, As One) to pave the way to a new enlightenment. And, finally, in an unknown time, a cowardous goat herder Zachry living in a forested valley must overcome his own fears to help a technologically advanced outsider Meronym to reach the top of a forbidden mountain where secrets may be the key to his own salvation.

Cloud Atlas is a difficult film to encapsulate into words. Spanning across centuries with six distinct but connected vignettes, the film is more than just the same actors with different make-ups and backdrops. From the Pacific Islands in the middle of the 1900s to the far-flung future where New Seoul is ruled by corpocrats and a caste system of pure bloods and fabricants, Cloud Atlas covers much ground in its pursuit of the one universal truth. 

With each lead actor and actress in several roles, it's a wonder that the film can be followed at all. But the Wachowskis spin and edit this three hour tale into an intricate and tight tapestry that will leave you amazed, delighted, and enlightened. It is a story of found and forlorn love against mounting odds, enduring cosmic connections, and the realization that there cannot be versions of the truth — only one truth, regardless of the perspective.

The Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer create an elaborate thread of overlapping narratives, recurring themes, and recurring characters (or actors as different characters). Each of the lead actors or actresses play no less than four completely different parts in the film.

Some play both men and women, heroes and villains. Whether a small role like Jim Broadbent's New Seoul Korean musician or a pivotal one in the guise of Tom Hank's Zachry who lives on Big Isle at a time of one hundred and six years after "The Fall', each plays their parts as if the characters themselves are defined for different films. The costume and visual effects are stunning. From the nineteenth century sailing ships to the consumer-driven society of the twenty-second century, the landscapes and backdrops are spectacular. But they are merely backdrops, practically, that set the stages for individualized stories of solidarity, brotherhood, faith, romance, love, determination, and truth.

The only down sides to this novel adaptation are that the speech of of New Seoul and of Big Isle requires a learning curve, and that some of the emotional content is dampened with all of the edits and breaks between the six stories. Even Tom Hanks' Dermot Hoggins in the good ole here and now, with his cockney accent, is near indecipherable at times.

But you pick up the language as quick as you can, and middle through the rest. And just when you become invested in a scene or development, the creators may edit the scene away in order to compound the emotional payoff. Some times it works, sometimes it doesn't.

Cloud Atlas is a cinematic wonder, suceeding in weaving a cohesive narrative thread throughout the ages. With a superior cast and the Wachowski siblings and Tykwer's imagination and vision, this film will leave its mark on you, for good, bad, or indifferent, far longer than after the theater lights come up.

Chuck Ingersoll is the editor and movie reviewing contributor for Hot Butter Reviews. You can find hundreds of reviews at www.HotButterReviews.com.


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