Overview: The lives of several individuals are linked centuries apart, covering the past, present, and future. Warner Bros. Pictures. Rated R. 172 Minutes.
Strengths: The score for Cloud Atlas is sweeping, orchestral, and larger-than-life. It’s the best thing the film has going for it. Adapted from the David Mitchell novel of the same name, the film is comprised of six separate, but connected narratives that span six different time periods (1849, 1936, 1973, 2012, 2144, and 2321). Composers Tom Tykwer, Reinhold Heil, and Johnny Klimek’s score links these sequences together in support of the film’s intended, overarching theme of interconnectivity.
Weaknesses: Cloud Atlas is admirably ambitious. Co-directors Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski deserve some acknowledgement for at least attempting to make this film. However, the level to which a film aspires doesn’t make it any better if it isn’t executed well. Ambition is not an excuse for quality, or lack thereof. The film’s reliance on making it clear to viewers that the six stories are connected fails us miserably. Several actors play characters in each of the time periods, relying on careless and unrealistic makeup work to age or transform them. Instead of completing its intended goal of showing viewers how the sequences link, the makeup is so off-putting and sometimes offensive (I’ll address this later) that it pulls us out of the experience. The makeup disguises a few characters’ identities well, but others are blatant and just plain laughable. A few examples: Hugo Weaving as a manly, hefty female nurse at an assisted living home, Ben Whishaw as an older woman, Doona Bae as a red-headed white girl and an old Hispanic woman (Bae is Korean), and Halle Berry as a Jewish woman and an old Korean scientist. I’m serious. All of this is actually in this movie.
Did They Really Do This?: The film’s narrow minded application of make-up in the 2144 Neo Seoul, Korea sequence is lazy and insensitive. In an attempt to maintain the character through line, Caucasian actors from previous sequences appear here as Korean. Apparently, the film’s idea of “Korean” is slapping on some slanted eye makeup and eyebrows, as if that is the only thing that makes someone look Korean. Doona Bae (the only leading actor in this sequence who is actually Korean) is left sharing screen time with a poorly transformed Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, and James D’Arcy, who look nothing like her. This is unacceptable. There are plenty of Asian/Korean actors working that could have filled these roles while still maintaining the connection with the characters through the time period.
Not only is this offensive to an entire race and continent of people, but as a Korean-American I have issues with this personally. I don’t believe the Wachowski’s meant any intentional harm here, but their egregious lack of awareness is just as bad. How did someone not tell them during production that what they were depicting could be viewed negatively? It’s absurd, ridiculous, stupid, rude, and an absolute joke.
Final Thoughts: Cloud Atlas is a victim to the very ambition that makes it interesting in the first place, and manages to be oblivious to how incredibly offensive it is along the way.