Thursday, February 21, 2013

Cloud Atlas (2013) movie review

Overall verdict: 9/10

The Good: a veritable showcase of acting talent from an all star cast, exquisite set designs, powerful interconnected stories with deep thinking themes, emotionally charged narrative, beautiful soundtrack

The Bad: non linear narrative style and thematic juxtaposition of 6 seperate stories may confuse many

Cloud Atlas is possibly one fo the trickiest movies to review. Here is a case of either you "get it" or not. It is by no means a typical drama. Here is a movie that encompasses so much of the emotional spectrum, transcending the very genre of what a movie is meant to be like.

The Wachowskis (creators of the Matrix Trilogy) deliver yet another thinking man's mind bomb via this narratively faithful but structurally different adaptation of David Mitchell's award winning novel. In the novel, each of the 6 interconnected stories are presented as a tale within a tale; the first story taking place in 18th century is presented as a lost diary that the protagonist of the second story finds. Likewise the second story is presented as a series of letters read by a supporting character in the 3rd story. What the Wachowski siblings do instead is present the stories as running parallel to each other, joined by thematic similarities within their narrative. Themes of love, loss, hope, despair, revelation, rebellion, defeat and triumph connect the scenes from each story which in themselves influence on another.

Yes, those initiated to non-sequential storytelling would be left lost. Each story follows a set genre style too. At one moment we follow a 19th century lawyer named Adam Ewing on his journey home to england from america, his fateful choice involving a stowaway slave.. The next we hop to 1936 as Robert Frobisher, a bisexual aspiring musician starts working on his masterpiece, the "Cloud Atlas Sextet" while his mentor seeks to claim credit for it. Then we get a great tribute to pulp spy thrillers in 70s and see the exploits of reporter Luisa Rey as she tries to uncover a conspiracy involving nuclear research and runs into some people seeking to silence her. Punctuating these more serious stories is the present day comedic ordeal of elderly Michael Cavendish as he is tricked into "incarceration" at a spartan nursing home and how he continually tries to find a way to escape.From the present to the far future, a clone slave named Somni bears witness to untold horrors in a so called Utopian world, thus fueling a rebel movement through the power of the media. And finally, during earth's last days, an era where cannibals rule the land, one unlikely couple seeks to escape their fate.

For fans of the Wachowskis' work, there are many similarities with this and the Matrix.  In all those stories, the central theme involves an imposed restriction and how an individual tries to break out from that restriction. Their act of defying the status quo would echo in the years to come and live on to inspire other such acts. Similar scenes are thus thematically juxtaposed and infused with bits of philosophy, not unlike The Matrix trilogy. Slavery, a desire for the truth, breaking free, futile rebellion, defeat but ultimately vindication. That similarity is most apparent in the Somni story, which could just as well be "The Matrix ver 2.0". With startling special effects, tremendous amount of thought which went into replicating the environments, tone, clothing and designs of each unique time period.

The all star cast brings their "A" game to screen delivering award winning performances. Even though we have so many characters to follow, the emotional connection is formed almost immediately.  Adding an element of fun to this movie is the ongoing game of "guess that face", as the actors play multiple roles across the various time periods. Sometimes they even play against type and against gender. Accompanying this time spanning epic is a emotionally powerful music score by Tom Tykwer, Johnny Kilmek and Reinold Heil. It is a simple melody which, like the movie, is performed in a variety of styles that matches the tone and time period of the scene.

Cloud Atlas will draw you in and thrill you as much as baffle you. One can only hope that the DVD or blu-ray release comes with both this ingeniously structured theatrical cut and "regular cut" which places the stories in chronological order (for those who can't follow flashback/flashforwards). With all the spectacle of a big budget blockbuster and the overall feel of a complex artsy film, Cloud Atlas is ambitious in challenging the norms of filmaking. Hopefully, its success will inspire generations to come.
******************Review End******************

Go For it: if you like complex movies that challenges you to think
Avoid it: if non-linear storytelling gives you a headache or if you dont like to think that much into movies

Entertainment: A
Story: A-
Acting: A
Characters: A
Music: B
Replay value: A
"Brains": A-

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