I’m not a fan of the Wachowski siblings. That’s not to say I think they’re bad directors or screenwriters. I actually think they’re pretty great at both. Even if they’re writing is a little from the George Lucas school of obvious, convenient and clichéd, they at least have fun with it. I’m not a fan of the Wachowski’s, simply because they don’t make the kinds of movies I’m interested in.
I saw The Matrix on VHS and thought it was an above average action adventure, but never felt like seeing it again. I saw The Matrix Two on the big screen and thought it was one of the biggest cinematic bed shittings in the history of movies shitting beds. Until now, that was the extent of my Wachowski exposure. But absent mindedly flicking through cable channels last night, I stumbled across Cloud Atlas about to start, so I locked in for almost three hours of Wachowski (and Tykwer, more on that later) insanity.
This is going to be the least accurate plot synopsis I have ever written, because I think I understood roughly 7% of Cloud Atlas. And while I refuse to rely on the internet to explain the plot to me, I will consult Wikipedia to get the years and settings of stories correct. If for no other reason than for me to try to piece this together for myself as I write this review. Cloud Atlas bounces back and forth between six stories and eras…
Pacific Islands, 1849. A slave, Auta (David Gyasi), is brutally whipped. Adam Ewing (Jim Stergess) is horrified by the act committed by his fellow whites and passes out. Once on board a ship, headed for home in New York, Adam discovers Auta has stowed away and helps him avoid execution by the white crew. All the while, Dr Henry Goose (Tom Hanks) is trying to slowly poison Adam for some reason.
Cambridge / Edinburgh, 1936. Robert Ferbisher (Ben Wishaw), a young composer begins working as personal assistant to established composer, Vyvyn Ayrs (Jim Broadbent). Emotionally abused by his employer, Ferbisher finds solace in reading the diary of Adam Ewing. All show and no substance, Ayrs hears Ferbisher playing an original composition that blows him away. Named The Cloud Atlas Sixtet, Ayrs tries to claim credit as a collaborator, saying their time together was clearly an influence on Ferbisher.
San Francisco, 1973. Journalist Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) gets mixed up in some sort of conspiracy that involves the sextet written by Ferbisher. That’s about all I got from this story. It engaged me the least.
London, 2012. Publisher Timothy Cavendish (Broadbent) bamboozles a local hard nut out of the rights to a book that goes on to sell millions. When the hard nut’s brother comes after him, Cavendish asks his own brother for help. As revenge for an affair decades earlier, his brother tricks Cavendish into being committed into a facility one step above Cuckoo’s Nest. This might be the least consequential story in Cloud Atlas, but I found it the most fun and entertaining.
Neo Seoul, 2144. Somni-451 (Doona Bae) is a robot. There are countless others identical to her. But she exhibits some signs of individual thought and is rescued by some sort of freedom fighter, revolutionary, named Commander Ha-Joo Chang (Sturgess). This might be tied for least interesting storyline, along with the 70s stuff in San Francisco.
Hawaii, “106 Winters After the Fall”. If you’re gonna go post apocalyptic, why not do it in Hawaii, where at least the weather’s good? Zachry (Hanks) is living a primitive life, hunting and gathering, when some local savages show up to kill his brother in law and nephew. When an hallucinatory imaginary friend holds Zachry back from helping, the guilt is almost unbearable. Soon, Meronym (Berry) arrives. She’s got a kicks ass space ship and a few other things left over from the high tech days of before the fall. She convinces Zachry to go with her on some mission or other bullshit. So I guess it’s a three-way tie for the least interesting stories within Cloud Atlas.
Always be wary of a movie when the marketing and publicity behind it is more about the making of it than the movie itself. Here, we have a couple of gimmicks that took all the lime light when Cloud Atlas was released. There’s the dual directing duties, with Lana and Andy Wachaowksi filming three of the stories, and Tom Tykwer filming the others. Made completely separately from each other, then intertwined and stitched together, the movie fits together surprisingly well in look and tone.
The other gimmick was the cast. Filled with big names like Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving and Jim Broadbent, they all took on multiple roles appearing in several, or all, of the different stories and time periods. That’s interesting I guess, but not enough to make me want to see the movie any more or less. And some of the makeup jobs are kind of laughable.
I didn’t love Cloud Atlas. But I didn’t hate it either. I don’t think it would take very much for someone passionate about it to convince me it’s an absolute masterpiece. At the same time, it would be pretty easy for someone to convince me that it’s a total mess. What I do know about Cloud Atlas is that it’s completely insane for a mega budget movie. And if I never understand it, I’m glad it exists for all of its bat shit insanity. Hollywood needs more of that kind of thing.