Cloud Atlas is a mind boggling, extremely creative endeavor which implements the use of a great casts to perform multiple roles to explore the consequences of individuals whose lives can be changed by a single event or choice. It’s a creative effort that was brought to life to the vision of the Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix). The film is based on the novel of the same name that was published in 2004 by David Mitchell. The film stars Tom Hanks (Larry Crowe), Halle Berry (The Caller), Hugo Weaving (V for Vendetta), Keith David (Armageddon), and Jim Sturgess (21).
Cloud Atlas is an extremely creative merger of science fiction and drama. The film has a great premise however, it is a chore to endure. The film tells six stories simultaneously and constantly flip flops between each of them. It’s really hard to follow or figure out how it all meshes together.
The six stories are: (according to wikipedia.com)
South Pacific Ocean, 1849
Adam Ewing, an “American lawyer from San Francisco, has come to the Chatham Islands to conclude a business arrangement with Reverend Gilles Horrox for his father-in-law, Haskell Moore. He witnesses the whipping of a Moriori slave, Autua, who later stows away on Ewing’s ship. Ewing advocates for Autua to join the crew as a freeman. Meanwhile, Dr. Henry Goose slowly poisons Ewing, claiming it to be the cure for a parasitic worm, aiming to steal Ewing’s valuables. When Goose attempts to administer the fatal dose, Autua saves Ewing. Returning to the United States, Ewing and his wife Tilda denounce her father’s complicity in slavery and leave San Francisco to join the Slavery Abolishment Movement.
Cambridge, England and Edinburgh, Scotland, 1936
Robert Frobisher, a bisexual English musician, finds work as an amanuensis to composer Vyvyan Ayrs, allowing Frobisher the time and inspiration to compose his own masterpiece, “The Cloud Atlas Sextet.” But Ayrs wishes to take credit for Frobisher’s work, and threatens to expose his scandalous background if he resists. Frobisher, who has read a partial copy of Ewing’s journal in the meanwhile, shoots Ayrs and flees to a hotel, where he finishes “The Cloud Atlas Sextet” but then commits suicide just before his lover Rufus Sixsmith arrives.
San Francisco, California, 1973
Journalist Luisa Rey meets an older Sixsmith, now a nuclear physicist. Sixsmith tips off Rey to a conspiracy regarding the safety of a new nuclear reactor run by Lloyd Hooks, but is assassinated by Hooks’ hitman Bill Smoke before he can give her a report that proves it. Rey finds and reads Frobisher’s letters to Sixsmith, resulting in her tracking down a vinyl recording of Frobisher’s “The Cloud Atlas Sextet.” Isaac Sachs, another scientist at the power plant, passes her a copy of Sixsmith’s report. However, Smoke assassinates Sachs and also runs Rey’s car off a bridge. With help from the plant’s head of security, Joe Napier, she evades another attempt against her life which results in Smoke’s death and exposes the plot to use a nuclear accident for the benefit of oil companies.
United Kingdom, 2012
Timothy Cavendish, a 65-year-old publisher, has a windfall when Dermot Hoggins, a gangster author whose book he has published, murders a critic and is sent to prison. When Hoggins’ brothers threaten Cavendish’s life to get his share of the profits, Cavendish asks for help from his brother Denholme. Denholme tricks him into hiding in a nursing home, where he is held against his will, but Cavendish escapes. Cavendish receives a manuscript of a novel based on Rey’s life and writes a screenplay about his own story.
Neo Seoul, (Korea), 2144
Sonmi-451, a genetically-engineered fabricant (clone) server at a restaurant, is interviewed before her execution. She recounts how she was released from her compliant life of servitude by Commander Hae-Joo Chang, a member of a rebel movement known as “Union”. While in hiding, she watches a film based on Cavendish’s adventure. The Union rebels reveal to her that fabricants like her are killed and “recycled” into food for future fabricants. She decides that the system of society based on slavery and exploitation of fabricants is intolerable, and is brought to Hawaii to make a public broadcast of her story and manifesto. Hae-Joo is killed in a firefight and Sonmi is captured. After telling her story and its intent, she is executed.
The Big Island (dated “106 winters after The Fall”, in the end credits and book cited as 2321)
Zachry lives with his sister and niece Catkin in a primitive society called “The Valley” after most of humanity has died during “The Fall”; the Valley tribesmen worship Sonmi as a goddess. Zachry is plagued by hallucinations of a figure called “Old Georgie” who manipulates him into giving in to his fear, and hiding while witnessing the murder of his brother-in-law and nephew by the cannibalistic Kona tribe. Zachry’s village is visited by Meronym, a member of the “Prescients”, a society holding on to remnants of technology from before the Fall. In exchange for saving Catkin from death, Zachry agrees to guide Meronym into the mountains in search of Cloud Atlas, a communications station where she is able to send a message to Earth’s colonies. At the station, Meronym reveals that Sonmi was a mortal and not a deity as the Valley tribes believe. After returning, Zachry discovers the slaughter of his tribe by the Kona. Zachry kills the Kona chief and rescues Catkin; Meronym saves them both from an assault by Kona tribesmen. Zachry and Catkin join Meronym and the Prescients as their boat leaves Big Island.
A seventh time period, several decades after the action on Big Island, is featured in the film’s prologue and epilogue: Zachry is revealed to have been telling these stories to his grandchildren on a colony of Earth on another planet, confirming that Meronym, who is present at the site, succeeded in sending the message to the colonies and was rescued along with him.
The cast of this mind numbing happenstance is the strength of this feature. It’s jam packed with stars led by Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Hugo Weaving who each deliver some great performance with the framework of this insanity. While it is clearly a chore to endure the length of the film and the non-stop constant juggling between stories, it does afford the actors a chance to showcase their talents. Each of the main actors play a minimum of four roles.
Cloud Atlas is far too long and too over rated. It’s ridiculously drawn out. It rambled about for nearly an hour and a half before it started to even begin to make since. With a running time of nearly 3 hrs this was so much of a waste, that I can’t even begin to put it into words. The Wachowski’s made their mark with the Matrix and have done very little since. This is yet another one of the over-hyped films that they have put out. It’s starting to appear that the Wachowskis were a one hit wonder. I would love to tell you to watch this but that would be a stretch, as I stated, the acting is great but this film doesn’t offer the entertainment to sit through the length or the ridiculousness of the multiple plotlines. Watch at your own risk.