‘Cloud Atlas’ Movie Review – A Limitless Scope
Although I’ll admit I have a semi-pessimistic view towards the projects churned out by Hollywood, I still think we’re getting dangerously low on “fresh” movies. Sometimes, it seems like movies are rehashing ideas we’ve all seen. Therefore, it’s a lot easier for me to enjoy one that is wholly ambitious, meaning I like giving A’s for effort. Although Cloud Atlas appears to be a mess for a good portion of the long runtime, the end result, including the magnificent scope, is worth lauding.
In some ways, Cloud Atlas may be this year’s The Tree of Life. In terms of sheer depth, there is so much going on – both on and off the surface – that it’s a movie worth seeing more than once.
Describing Cloud Atlas presents quite the problem because the story isn’t focused in on one particular plotline. Instead, it’s narrowed in on one idea…although this could be argued. If you concede, it’s about the possibilities of one idea. And that idea involves what happens to your soul once you perish.
This is a fundamental question that too few movies try to tackle, and mostly because of the controversial nature. Audiences don’t generally like being told what exactly happens when we die. Cloud Atlas smartly dodges this criticism by giving a more holistic approach, offering up the multiple interpretations that millions still argue.
In the plot’s chronology, various characters (played most notably by Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, and Hugh Grant) and their reincarnations exist over various timelines. This obviously makes the film extremely nonlinear, actively jumping between pre-colonization and the ambiguous future (or at least what I comprehend as the ambiguous future). There are at least five different settings (although Weaving is credited as six different characters), and there is plenty of room for interpretation.
As you can tell, Cloud Atlas has a unique vision. With such a grandiose idea (and massive scope), the film is bound to particular criticisms. There’s simply so much going on that it takes a long time to get everything established. Starting with a purposely vague voiceover, the first two-thirds (roughly two hours) is a mess of intercuts from one time-and-space to another. There are certain occurrences, such as notable events and bits of similar dialogue, that connect some stories, but for the most part they seem jumbled.
If you can stick out the rough ride, the final forty-five minutes has a good chance of making up for it. This is mostly how I felt, because I was lost for the better part of the movie. Since the same actors portray the different characters (yes, you will get to see an African-American Tom Hanks), it can be distracting and hard to comprehend. Obviously, this is what the movie is going for, and I wouldn’t ever use this as an excuse to avoid the film.
Movies that make you think are generally the movies you should see.
This is also a good opportunity to compliment the visuals, both within the costume and character design and the overall landscape. Starting with the character designs, I was amazed at how well the actors blended into their roles. Especially in the case of Grant, who I didn’t even recognize until almost the very end. Looking back, he actually appeared as four different characters, even reincarnating as a bloodthirsty cannibal.
As for the rest of the visuals, the worlds the Wachowskis (Lana and Larry) and Tom Tykwer created were stylistically stunning. Whether portraying modern England or a distant future – which looked very similar to The Matrix universes – Cloud Atlas is, at the least, an awesome movie to look at.
So, there’s plenty to like and plenty to dislike. Again, my word of encouragement is the final third will make up for the often random nature of the first two-thirds. It’s a movie that needs the right mindset, but the end result has the potential for a huge payoff. This ambitious movie is sure to be a memorable experience…whether you agree or disagree with the film’s effectiveness.
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