'Cloud Atlas' simplicity brilliantly complicated

By Gary Wolcott, atomictown.comOctober 26, 2012 

Cloud Atlas is done by The Matrix makers Lana and Andy Wachowski and Run Lola Run's Tom Tykwer.

Who? Isn't that Larry and Andy? No. Larry is now Lana. He -- she -- has gone through gender reassignment.

Hadn't heard that one before. It's the new PC terminology for a sex change operation. I only bring this up because I don't want you to think Lana is a misprint or that I don't know the filmmakers.

Whatever. Guy or lady, Larry now Lana is still a hell of a filmmaker.

Cloud Atlas is his latest film and it's an imaginative and fresh look at the concept of reincarnation. The premise is simple. Complication comes in the telling of the stories of a dozen characters as they reincarnate through the ages. Some souls change, grow and eventually get "it" -- whatever "it" is -- and some don't. In each incarnation the souls are connected and interact with each other.

In each incarnation there is some vague familiarity but not knowledge of past lives.

Pay attention. The film is done in pieces and the stories start in 1849 and move to 1936, 1973, 2012, 2144 and 2346. The 2346 segment is after the Fall. You may be confused and think it's somewhere in our distant past. It is not.

The Fall is a collapse of civilization.

Cloud Atlas tosses you back and forth through time. As each story unfolds, the characters learn and grow, or they don't and the person's soul deteriorates.

The superb storytelling is highlighted by outstanding acting. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry head the cast. They each play six different characters. Hanks and Berry are joined by a marvelous and often quite funny Jim Broadbent, my favorite villain -- and the Wachowski's favorite -- Hugo Weaving, a surprising and different than you've ever seen him, Hugh Grant, Koren actress Doona Bae, Jim Sturgess, Susan Sarandon, Ben Whitsaw, James D'Arcy and Keith David.

No one disputes that Hanks is a great actor. Two Oscars and a third he should have gotten but didn't -- Saving Private Ryan -- prove that. Here Hanks is better than he's ever been and, as few actors can do, he does a surprising number of different parts, and dialects.

And brilliantly.

Two other nice surprises. Grant is an exceptional villain. He's a nasty, nasty creep in one segment and a brutal killer. So not Grant-like. Another excellent piece of work is done by the until now mostly unknown Bae. She is especially good in the sci-fi portion of the film.

Most flicks pushing the theory of reincarnation are overly preachy. Explanations are usually clunky and instead of complexity, you get convolution. Not so with Cloud Atlas. The Wachowski's and Tykwer don't attempt to explain anything. They just tell novelist David Mitchell's fascinating story.

The beauty of the storytelling is what is left untold. You are introduced to some facts and have to decide yourself what really happened. Few films have the courage to go there. Cloud Atlas does.

And it does so very, very well.

Mr. Movie rating: 5 stars

Rated R for graphic violence, nudity, sex, language, mature themes. It is playing at the Carmike 12, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.

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