Cloud Atlas ***/4 – a movie review by James Berardinelli

February 28, 2013 by James Berardinelli - Reelviews
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Based on a perusal of reviews for Cloud Atlas, one might be convinced that the sprawling, ambitious, epic adaptation of David Mitchell’s 2004 novel is either a masterpiece or an unmitigated disaster. The reality is somewhere in between. It’s hard to argue that Cloud Atlas isn’t too long – discounting the credits, it clocks in at around 160 minutes – and that its rambling structure can result in an emotional disconnect with the material. But there are some amazing sequences and the film’s visual style is powerful. They key to successfully absorbing the movie may be in not trying to overthink what’s on screen. Decoding the thin strands that connect stories to each other is a journey better embarked upon by those watching it for a second or third time.

As is the case with the book, the movie presents six separate stories that transpire across a slice of time beginning in the mid-19th century and ending in a distant post-apocalyptic future. The first tale, “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing,” takes place on a ship making a Pacific Ocean crossing and relates the unlikely friendship that develops between a San Francisco notary (Jim Sturgess) and a Maori slave (David Gyasi). Story #2, “Letters from Zedelghem,” transpires in 1931 Belgium and tells of the relationship between a young musician (Ben Whishaw) and the aging composer (Jim Broadbent) for whom he works as an amaneuensis. “Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery” occurs in the 1970s and is designed to mimic thrillers of the era. Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) is a young journalist who stumbles upon a plot by an oil company executive (Hugh Grant) to allow a nuclear reactor to melt down. The fourth segment, “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish” is a contemporary tale about a British publisher (Jim Broadbent) who is confined against his will in a bizarre nursing home where aging parents are consigned to live out their lives when their children want them “out of sight, out of mind.” “An Orison of Sonmi~451” takes Cloud Atlas into the future (the 22nd century), where a genetically engineered fabricant (Doona Bae) is used by revolutionaries to be the figurehead for their rebellion. The sixth and final story, “Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After” takes place in a time beyond the 22nd century when a primitive tribesman (Tom Hanks) befriends a woman (Halle Berry) who belongs to a technologically advanced culture and makes a bargain with her that changes both their futures.

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