Cloud Atlas (R)


Movie Info

Rating: * * 1/2

Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Hugh Grant, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Susan Sarandon.

Writers-directors: Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski. Based on the novel by David Mitchell.

Producers: Stefan Arndt, Grant Hill.

A Warner Bros. release. Running time: 172 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, gore, sexual situations, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.

“There is a method to this madness,” a character says directly into the camera, as if addressing the viewer, near the beginning of Cloud Atlas. The line is essentially a plea from directors Tom Tykwer ( Run Lola Run) and Lana and Andy Wachowski ( The Matrix) to be patient and trust them. They know they have gone way outside the box with this dazzling pop fantasia that skips through six stories spanning 500 years, with the same actors playing different characters in each tale, disguised by wigs and prosthetic makeup.

In his best-selling novel, David Mitchell told the stories one at a time, nestling them into each other like Russian dolls. The movie gives them to you all at once. Cloud Atlas can spend 60 seconds in 1973, when a reporter (Hally Berry) is investigating the threat of a nuclear reactor meltdown, then hurtle back to 1846, when an American lawyer (Jim Sturgess) falls ill while sailing home from the Pacific Islands.

A futuristic adventure in 2144, when a genetically cloned woman (Doona Bae) defies her creators and runs away to live among real people, segues into a 1936 tragedy involving a young musician (Ben Whishaw) in an illicit gay affair. Those two narratives — the sci-fi directed by the Wachowskis, the romance by Tykwer — are the best storylines in Cloud Atlas, albeit for entirely different reasons. The Wachowskis create a gleaming, meticulously rendered future-world where every tiny detail fascinates, from the colors of a restaurant menu to the design of police spacecraft, and where the thunderous action is staged in the style of old-fashioned cliffhangers, with narrow escapes and relentless chases.

Tykwer opts for a slower, gentler pace, using the piece of music his character composes, entitled The Cloud Atlas Sextet, as a theme that recurs through the movie’s score, and ending his story with the single most moving moment in the film — the only time, really, when this enormous movie achieves any emotional intimacy and touches the heart.

The two worst narratives in Cloud Atlas are a present-day story of a London book publisher (Jim Broadbent) confined against his will to a retirement home ruled by a Nurse Ratched-type (played by Hugo Weaving in distracting drag) and a post-apocalyptic tale in Hawaii that plays like a Game of Thrones episode featuring guest appearances by Tom Hanks as a meek goat herder and Hugh Grant as a bloodthirsty tribal lord. The former is played for farcical laughs that never come; the latter is a mish-mash of Braveheart-style action and weak-tea sci-fi.

Editor Alexander Berner has been tasked with the daunting task of intertwining all these disparate storylines, looking for natural overlaps and recurring themes to connect the tales into a single, enormous tapestry. He doesn’t succeed. As a whole, Cloud Atlas doesn’t hang together — it’s a Frankenstein monster of a movie, stitched from disparate parts — and at its worst, it sinks into the kind of philosophical navel-gazing that plagued the two Matrix sequels (sample dialogue: “To see is to perceive and so to know thyself is only possible through the eyes of others.”)

And yet: Even at nearly three hours, Cloud Atlas never sags, because the film doesn’t spend enough time on the bad stories to derail the good ones (it’s like surfing through six different TV channels). And as distracting as the makeup jobs can be, the stunt of casting famous actors in various roles sometimes pays off. Hanks is terrific in the 1846 tale as a doctor pretending to tend to a sick man while he’s actually poisoning him, and he’s even better in a brief appearance in the London story as a thuggish author who exacts radical revenge on a critic who panned his book. Berry’s best work is her turn as the investigative reporter who may be nosing into dangerous corners, and she even pulls off the small role of a white Jewish woman in the 1936 strand (the makeup work is so effective, she’s almost unrecognizable).

Fans of Mitchell’s novel, who are protective of the book and had been fretting about its fate as a movie, can relax. Cloud Atlas is more of a spin-off on the original text — a kind of bonus supplement — than a true adaptation. The film departs so radically from Mitchell, it stands alone as its own thing. Visually, the movie is beautiful ( Almost Famous’ John Toll and Perfume’s Frank Griebe are the cinematographers), with each plotline sporting a distinct look and lighting scheme. Considering the density and breadth of the movie, the potential for confusion was great. But Cloud Atlas is clear and easy to follow, and the constant intercutting and juxtaposing create a kind of momentum that serves as a sort of unique hyper-narrative. I wish the filmmakers had come up with better ways other than shared birthmarks and handed-down letters to tie the whole picture together. But if you’re interested in the sheer craft of moviemaking, Cloud Atlas is required viewing – a rare example of a movie getting by entirely on technique and creative bravado..

Read more Reeling with Rene Rodriguez stories from the Miami Herald

 <span class="cutline_leadin">What’s the secret?</span> Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites are a brother and sister trying to solve the mystery of a demonic mirror in ‘Oculus.’

    Oculus (R)

    Mirrors have been as much of a fixture in horror movies as knives and cats that suddenly jump from the shadows. But they’re best in cameos, as in the ending of Dressed to Kill or the bathroom scene in The Shining. Oculus revolves entirely around an ornate mirror that is, what, a gateway to hell? A summoning force for evil spirits? A really ugly piece of furniture from a medieval Pottery Barn?

Iko Uwais and Cecep Arif Rahman square off in a scene from ‘The Raid 2.’

    The Raid 2 (R)

    Every time you think The Raid 2 can’t possibly top itself, writer-director Gareth Evans goes “Oh, yeah? Watch this.” Most of 2011’s The Raid: Redemption took place inside a tenement raided by a SWAT team to apprehend a mobster and his squad of killers holed up inside. Practically no one survived the movie — the violence was astonishing — but the contained setting and the idea of having events grow hairier for the good guys the higher they went in the building gave the tight 101-minute movie a sense of compressed, relentless action. Now comes The Raid 2 (known as The Raid 2: Bernadal in its native Indonesia), which is far more expansive and complicated, and runs almost 2 ½ hours. Miraculously, the new picture makes the old one feel like Evans was just warming up.

A sexual addict (Charlotte Gainsbourg) visits a therapist (Jamie Bell) with unorthodox methods to try to help get over her compulsion in ‘Nymphomaniac: Vol. 2’

    NYMPHOMANIAC VOL. 2 (unrated)

    Nymphomaniac Vol. 2 (unrated)

    Things get really kinky in Nymphomaniac Vol. 2, the second chapter in director Lars von Trier’ epic-length saga about a woman who can’t get enough. If you saw Vol. 1, which ended with our perpetually horny heroine Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) losing all feeling in her sexual organs, you might be wondering, “How could this movie outdo the first one?” To quote the great Bachman-Turner Overdrive, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category