where the writers are
Cloud Atlas

a film review
by Jeanne Powell

“Cloud Atlas” is a work of mind-bending fiction turned into a somewhat intriguing film, with lots of star power.  At nearly three hours in length, the film is uneven and too long.

 British author David Mitchell’s popular novel, published in 2004, was adapted for the screen by the Wachowski siblings.  Considered by some to be unfilmable due to its length, time span of 500 years and themes with cosmic implications, the novel undergoes a transformation which may be more than was necessary to render the story in a different genre. 

 The film is a mix of science fiction, suspense, social commentary and violent action scenes, as the characters move from a murderous 19th century voyage in the South Seas to the home of an manipulative composer past his prime in the UK, to a muckraking journalist reminiscent of the reporter in “Three Mile Island” to amusing sequences of a publisher held prisoner in a convalescent center, to a humanoid GMO trapped in the totalitarian future (think “Total Recall” and “Blade Runner”), to the remnants of a world after the fall (end of western Roman empire with legions recalled, or breakup of Charlemagne’s empire after his death, or a nuclear holocaust), along with visitors from a galaxy far far away with rescue in mind. 

 Each actor plays several parts, with some clever disguises as the film cuts back and forth between centuries and story lines.  Halle Berry is the Native Woman, Jocasta Ayrs,  Louisa Rey, Ovid and Meronym, for example. Jim Broadbent is Captain Molyneus, Vyvyan Ayrs, Timothy Cavendish and Prescient 2, to name a few.  Tom Hanks is Henry Goose, Isaac Sachs, Dermot Hoggins and Zachry, among others.  And Susan Sarandon plays Madame Horrox, Older Ursula, Yusouf Suleiman and the Abbess.  Thoughtful credits at the end clear up the mystery of who plays whom, if the viewer has not given up by then. 

 Film directors Lana and Andy Wachowski collaborated with Tom Tykwer in adapting the Mitchell novel for the screen, substituting cross cutting techniques for any kind of symmetry in storytelling.  Tom Tykwer directed the 1998 film, “Run Lola Run.”  Lana is credited with writing the script for “The Matrix.” 

 The political transformation of  Sonmi-451 played by Doona Bae (humanoid GMO in the ultimate corporate nightmare for an employee) holds one’s attention and brings to mind moments from “The Fifth Element” and “Blade Runner.”  Otherwise, this film is not engaging:   a lot of actors earnestly playing multiple parts, too much cross cutting of story lines and excessive reliance on violence near the end.  Perhaps another viewing in the distant future?