Directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, & Lana Wachowski
This last Saturday I made an impromptu trip to the theater to see a cinematic adaption of one of my favorite books, Cloud Atlas.
If you haven't read it, do it.
The following is an extended review with some spoilers:
Cloud Atlas follows six stories simultaneously. While each of the stories are vastly separated in time (from the 1800's to the distant future) the film shows the interconnectedness of life through repeating themes, interpersonal relationships, and tokens of the past. Below are rough outlines of the six individual stories, each following a different character.
The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing
The first story, temporally, takes place in the mid 1800's and follows one Adam Ewing, a lawyer from San Francisco. Mr. Ewing has been chartered to set up a business transaction between his employer/father-in-law and the owner of a slave plantation on a remote Pacific island. Along the way he meets one Dr. Henry Goose who promises to cure Mr. Ewing of an affliction that comes about suddenly. He further ends up rescuing a slave, Autua, who becomes a close friend. The story centers around his adventures and his attempt to journey home.
Letters from Zedelghem
The letters in question are written by one Robert Frobisher to his estranged lover. Frobisher, a former prostitute with a musical inclination, takes it upon himself to become the amanuensis of noted composer Vyvyan Ayrs. The story, taking place in 1930's Belgium, follows Frobisher's decline which leads to the composition of his masterpiece, Cloud Atlas, for which the book and movie are named.
Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery
This story follows a '70's era reporter, Luisa Rey, as she investigates the suspicious background behind the construction of a new nuclear power plant. Luisa soon gets caught up in the mystery and intrigue as she discovers hidden plots and must sacrifice her safety to maintain her journalistic integrity in the attempt to live up to the memory of her father.
The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish
This tale is the sort of comedic relief of the set, but it's probably my favorite. Timothy Cavendish is an aging editor who runs into trouble when the disorderly family of one of his authors threaten him for money. Seeking asylum from his estranged brother, Timothy is recommended to a secluded hotel that is actually an old folks home. The rest of the story follows his attempts to escape from the home and its oppressive staff.
An Orison of Sonmi~451
The tale of Sonmi~451 receives much of the focus of the movie. This is because it is perhaps the most moving and culturally relevant segment. It takes place in the dystopian future of Korea where menial jobs are performed by clone slaves known as fabricants. Sonmi~451 is such a fabricant who develops sentience and fights to free her fellow slaves from their engineered fate.
Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After
This is the tale of Zachry, a goat herder on a Hawaiian island in the post-apocalyptic future that follows the Orison of Sonmi~451. In it, Zachry's primitive tribe is visited by the Precsients, a group of people still in possession of the technologies of the "Old Uns". One of the Precsients stays with Zachry's tribe to learn their ways, but Zachry maintains suspicions that are spurred by the ghosts of his past.
Considering the complexity and huge span of the original book, this is a surprisingly faithful adaption. Moreover, the movie does have a distinct advantage over the book in the way it's presented. That is, the book is told with the first half of the first five stories, then the entirety of the last story, and finally the remaining halves of the first five. The movie, on the other hand, jumps rapidly back and forth between the stories in such a way that the interconnectedness is explicitly highlighted.
In addition to the format, I also like the cinematography. The range of stories should make the different styles difficult to execute, but they do a flawless job here. Additionally, this movie deserves an Oscar for makeup, if nothing else. For the continuity, all the actors play several roles. Consequently, the actors have various make up styles. However, this isn't a "Nutty Professor" type film where the multiple roles are a gimmick. It's actually believable and quite well done. The one exception I noted is with an Asian actor who they make into a white girl for one scene. The shape of her face comes through and it's kind of distracting.
I give the film a 9/10 for its faithful adaption and ambitious production. Overall, the acting is great, the cinematography is nearly flawless, and the story line is touching. If anything, the movie's only flaw is that it is too faithful to the book and as a result runs a little long at just shy of three hours.
I recommend you read the book first and then rent it when it comes out on dvd. However, my girlfriend watched the film with me without having read the book and thoroughly enjoyed it, nevertheless. Anyway, just see it.