Cloud Atlas (2012)

Cloud Atlas (2012)
  • Time: 172 min
  • Genre: Adventure | Drama | Sci-Fi
  • Director: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
  • Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Ben Whishaw, Jim Sturgess, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant


An ex-Marine haunted by a tragic past, Tommy Riordan (Tom Hardy) returns to his hometown of Pittsburgh and enlists his father (Nick Nolte), a recovering alcoholic and his former coach, to train him for an MMA tournament awarding the biggest purse in the history of the sport. As Tommy blazes a violent path toward the title prize, his brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton), a former MMA fighter unable to make ends meet as a public school teacher, returns to the amateur ring to provide for his family. Even though years have passed, recriminations and past betrayals keep Brendan bitterly estranged from both Tommy and his father. But when Brendan’s unlikely rise as an underdog sets him on a collision course with Tommy, the two brothers must finally confront the forces that tore them apart, all the while waging the most intense winner-take-all battle of their lives.


  • This is a three hour long movie and for such a long movie it had better be good. Unfortunately, this is not the case with Cloud Atlas.

    It probably took me about an hour just to understand what was happening in the movie. In the movie we follow the stories of different people in different time eras. We get to see only a few minutes of each story at a time before it switches to another so it’s very difficult to follow the storyline in each story. The stories also belong to very different genres, for example the story about the old man is a pure comedy and suddenly the movie switches another story where someone is being brutally killed. It makes it hard to sustain the interest for each story because you’re busy trying to switch between your feelings (laughing, being excited, being shocked, etc.) and remembering what happened in the last scene of each story.

    In the end I was able to start seeing a connection between most of the stories and once you start to understand what is going on it gets better. The idea behind the story (or stories) is good but the movie is both too long and doesn’t do the idea justice. I guess I’ll have to read the book to see if it’s not better.

    The only good thing I can say about Cloud Atlas is that it has beautiful colors and visual scenes, and that the story gets better towards the end.

  • Cloud Atlas may well be the most disappointing movie of the year 2012. I’ve had the book on my to-read list for several months, and in the lead-up to the release of the movie I had numerous friends tell me this was one of the best books they’d ever read.

    Obviously with any book-to-movie adaptation there will be some changes, and the results will be mixed. But I can’t imagine anyone, having read the book or not, will be satisfied with this film.

    Granted, this was an ambitious undertaking. The book follows six different stories, telling the first half of each, then passing off the tale to someone in the next before looping back around to give all 6 conclusions:

    1) In 1850 a sick notary on a ship befriends a stowaway slave and writes letters to his wife;

    2) In 1931 a young musician reads those letters, and also writes letters to his lover as he composes the Cloud Atlas sextet;

    3) In 1975 said lover passes information on an unstable nuclear reactor to a journalist (who also reads the musician’s letters);

    4) In 2012 the journalists’ life story is presented to a publisher who is unjustly locked up in an institution;

    5) In 2144, the publisher’s life story becomes a movie watched by a clone who has been unjustly oppressed and now chooses to rebel;

    6) That clone has become a goddess in the eyes of a post-apocalyptic tribal people.

    Phew. okay.

    Aside from the fact that it is LONG and BORING, Cloud Atlas is just… uncomfortable. I was put-off by the image of Jim Sturgess in yellowface from the beginning, and in the context of the film it is just as unsettling. This racebending occurs from black to white to Asian to Indian and back again (though notably, no one ever wears blackface), and it all took me right out of the movie. I don’t know how to process someone using racial slurs against someone who isn’t actually the race they’re playing, e.g. calling an Asian woman playing a Latina a “wetback.”

    The Wachowski siblings defend their casting choices by stating that “The intention is to talk about things that are beyond race,” and that “The book suggests that there is a humanity that is beyond our tribe, our ethnic features.” In theory it may sound admirable to attempt such “colorblind” casting and filming, and it’s true that in one or two instances the direct parallels of the storylines are highlighted nicely by parallel casting – e.g. two characters playing lovers separated by circumstance, with two very different endings to their tales in different lifetimes.

    But the “colorblind” casting philosophy ignores the reality: that black/yellow/brown/red “face” has historically been used by the white majority to homogenize, dehumanize, and marginalize other races.

    Putting a black man in yellow face isn’t progressive, it just highlights the fact that so few Asian actors are allowed the opportunity to star in Hollywood films. Though we’ve mostly moved away from offensive stereotypes as blatant as Mickey Rooney’s in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (though not entirely), the starring roles in movies like The Last Airbender and Dragonball Z, which should go to Asian actors, continue to be whitewashed. The casting choices for Cloud Atlas only continue this unfortunate – and truly harmful – trend. As Aoki stated, this would have been a great opportunity for an Asian actor.

    If you want to take a deeper look at the racebending techniques used and why they fail on so many levels, Andrew Ti (of Yo, Is This Racist? fame) breaks it down for us.

    Beyond the specter of racism, the role-reversals were just plain unnecessary. We’ve already established that these characters are meeting again and again in different lifetimes, through heavy-handed monologuing and careful editing. (The latter was overdone; I understood that the director was trying to show the parallels between stories and lifetimes, but it only served to cut up story lines into segments so short and disjointed that I honestly stopped caring about each.) But if those clear parallels weren’t enough, we even have a comet-shaped birthmark presenting a big neon sign to the audience – “These are the same people! Get it? Like, reincarnation, or… something? Birthmark!”

    So why the actors overlapping story lines? I felt that entire conceit was used for one “satisfying” moment – when Sonmi imagines a door opening in another life and we see that parallel as she opens a door in a different story line. Otherwise… useless. Often the lead actors play peripheral roles in subsequent storylines, or switch from good to evil characters, which dispells any notion that they are playing the same soul reincarnated – you can’t tell me Tom Hanks in 1850 is the same soul in 1975 or in the dystopian future. Even Roger Ebert admitted in his otherwise positive review, that “On my second viewing, I gave up any attempt to work out the logical connections between the segments, stories and characters.” He seems to think this adds complexity; I see that as thoughtlessness and cheap gimmickry.

    It’s just distracting to look at all the racebending roles, particularly with such well-known actors. All you can think is “Wow, Hugo Weaving is Asian?” or “Hugo Weaving is Mrs. Doubtfire?” or “Hugo Weaving is a giant green leprechaun?” rather than paying attention to his character’s purpose.

    urprisingly, I also realized in watching Cloud Atlas that Tom Hanks is a terrible character actor. He can play leading men like few others, but as a goofy, buck-toothed surgeon? No. As an indigenous, pidgin-speaking tribesman? SPARE ME. That dialogue was Jar-Jar levels of ridiculous. “Yousa been savin me twicely nah, I’ba gon’ takya ta mounty mount, true true!”

    Fortunately there were two bright spots in this otherwise leaden script: Frobisher’s romance and plotline were sweet and poignant; and Cavendish’s escapades were amusing, if seemingly random (and plagued by the off-putting sight of Weaving as Nurse Ratchet) – “Soylent Green is PEOPLE!” got several chuckles.

    The futuristic world of Neo-Seoul held the most promise in my opinion, but the story itself was so poorly told that I couldn’t appreciate the adventure or the emotional resonance they tried to build. Why did the resistance care so much about Sonmi?! WHY!?

    Overall, I came out of this movie exhausted and annoyed. Major disappointment.

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