Who among us doesn’t want to be remembered? To make an impact that will last lifetimes? It turns out everyone’s life does, just not necessarily the way you might like or to the degree you might hope, or so says this latest offering from the creators of The Matrix trilogy based on a novel of the same name by David Mitchell.
Chronologically, the first character we’re introduced to is Adam Ewing. Ewing (played by Jim Sturgess) is an American lawyer travelling to the South Pacific to conduct business on behalf of his father-in-law. He witnesses the enslavement of the native islanders, offers passage to one who stows away on the ship, Autua (played by David Gyasi) and falls ill as a result of exposure to a parasite. Once incapacitated by his illness, Ewing is “cared for” by the maniacal Dr. Henry Goose (played by Tom Hanks). Eighty-seven years later, we’re taken to the UK and introduced to a young man whose wealthy father sees him as an embarrassment and has disowned him. That man, Robert Frobisher (played by Ben Whishaw), dreams of being a composer. While hoping to achieve that, he takes a job dictating for a man whose already achieved fame of his own, Vyvyan Ayrs (played by Jim Broadbent), whose eyes are failing him. Despite Ayrs unpleasant demeanor, Frobisher proves up to the job and it allows him time to further his own ambitions. Flash forward another thirty-seven years, we meet Luisa Rey. Rey (played by Halle Berry who also portrays relatively minor characters in the previous storylines) is a second-generation journalist writing a story about a nuclear power plant that is opening in her hometown of San Francisco. Unexpectedly, she meets Rufus Sixsmith (former lover of the now-deceased Frobisher played by James D’Arcy). Sixsmith (D’Arcy) is a nuclear physicist who knows that the plant is unsafe and hopes to relay his knowledge to Rey and provide evidence to substantiate it. What neither Ray, Sixsmith, or Dr. Isaac Sachs (another whistleblower played by Tom Hanks) are aware of however, is that they are all being hunted by a man whose employers wish to see the plant open, no matter the risk to the environment or local residents. Once again, we jump ahead. This time, thirty-nine years to the present. There we meet Timothy Cavendish (played by Broadbent). Cavendish is a publisher at a publicity event for an author named Dermot Hoggins (Hanks). During the event, Hoggins sees a critic who panned his work and throws him off the balcony. While he is sent to jail for his actions, his book begins flying off the shelves resulting in a financial windfall for Cavendish. Members of the Hoggins family wish to take the proceeds Cavendish is receiving from the sales as a result of Dermot signing away his rights to them before going to jail. Cavendish goes on the run and his brother Denholme (played by Hugh Grant who, like the others, played roles of varied significance in the previous stories) sends him to an establishment that he mistakes for a hotel but that is, in fact, a secure home for the elderly. Rather than capitulate, Cavendish plots his escape with help from other unhappy residents, one of whom only says two words over and over during the planning of the escape and the escape itself.
There are two more storylines which, together, span a time of two-hundred nine years into the future. Rather than describe them both, I’ll simply conclude here with my thoughts on the film as a whole. Cloud Atlas, while not as brilliant as the hype made it out to be, is a great film. Hanks and company play all of their roles expertly. And though the connective tissue between them strains credulity at times, they each leave the viewer with a sense of hope and optimism that, in the end, things will work out somehow. That’s not a large part of my particular worldview, but it’s beautifully depicted and highly entertaining, nonetheless. See it.