Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Who will win the Best Makeup award at next year's Oscar festivities? You can bet on the talented team from Cloud Atlas, the ambitious, visionary saga of love, loss, greed, slavery, and redemption through the ages, co-written and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer.

Not only does this intrepid crew remake recognizable actors into various characters in various timelines, it often radically alters an actors' age, ethnicity and gender into the bargain.

The ease with which Asian and Caucasian, male and female, black and white switch roles throughout the film puts Cloud Atlas at risk of becoming a stunt movie, an elaborate game of spot-the-actor. OMG, it's Tom Hanks as that foul-mouthed skinhead British author. There's Halle Berry as a futuristic (male) lab tech with a gearshift for an eye. And isn't that Hugh Grant in tribal war paint? But the movie is rich (some might say dense) enough in ideas, plot, characters, and themes to keep us engaged.

Adapted from the 2004 novel by David Mitchell, the film presents six interwoven stories in different styles and settings (Victorian-era seafaring adventure, neo-noir thriller, industrialized future, post-apocalyptic tribalism, etc). Some civil rights groups are blasting the film for putting non-Asian actors in "yellowface" in a segment set in futuristic Korea (although Asian actresses Doona Bae,  Xun Zhou, and Zhu Zhu also turn up in non-Asian roles in other segments).

But having the same actors play diverse roles across five centuries of civilization also enhances the central motif of humanity facing the same moral, romantic and political issues, over and over again, in every era, where, as one character says, "the smallest crime or kindness" can have unknowable repercussions throughout the ages.

Transitions back and forth between the stories are often ingenious, and overall, the filmmaking is dynamic, despite a few too many vehicle chases and shootouts. And I would have liked more genuine emotional resonance amid all the flash and dazzle.

But here's the, er, bottom line for me: at nearly three hours in length, does the movie pass the butt test? It did for me. No squirming, no checking my watch, I was interested in the stories throughout. And how often do you see a movie any more that you can talk about for hours later? (Read more)

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