“Cloud Atlas” is an unusual and quite ambitious movie. For starters, the scope of the film spans centuries and dimensions – exploring the past, present and future and delving into serious themes such as life, death, love and the afterlife. There are six different stories that are weaved together throughout the film, which runs just under three hours. And there were three directors: The Wachowskis (“The Matrix” and “Speed Racer”) took on half of the stories, while Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”) directed the other three. “Cloud Atlas” has all the elements of an epic: the look, the feel and certainly the length. But it falls just a little short of that honor.
The main premise of “Cloud Atlas” is that we are all “connected”, not only to who we were in our past lives but to who we knew back then and the good and bad things we may have done. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant, Jim Sturgess and Susan Sarandon are part of the ensemble cast. Each plays several different characters who encounter each other at different points over a nearly 500 year period.
The film cuts quickly from story to story, usually after only a 1-2 minute scene. Not all of the actors are in each story and there’s no, true “direct” connection between any of them. It’s all much more subtle than that. But this is a “message film” – and to get the message across there is a lot of narration. While it’s not a distraction, much of voice-over is heavy-handed and unnecessary. At times I wanted to be the one who realized what the characters were feeling and experiencing – not having it told to me.
Overall, the cast is outstanding. Individually it will be interesting to see how these performances are judged come awards season. Is it easier or more difficult to give someone an acting award for playing six different characters in a film instead of just one? And the tricky part with “Cloud Atlas” is that these multiple characters played by each actor had to be consistent in tone and flow with each separate storyline. Out of the group Berry has the best chance to pick-up a nomination. Hanks is also good, but a couple of his roles are a bit out of sync with the rest.
Same goes for Broadbent, especially in the last hour. And this is where “Cloud Atlas” loses it’s momentum. The first two hours are gripping, intense and engaging. But the last act feels like the writers just gave up on the theme and decided to simply wrap-up the stories as if they were six individual movies instead of one, long “connected” one. There was a chance for something quite special, but that opportunity is missed.
On the plus side, the look of film is impressive – from the mid-1800’s to the post-apocalyptic future – and every stop in between. And the makeup and hairstyling is effective. At times the actors are unrecognizable (and only a few times are they too recognizable). During the recap in the credits, you’ll find yourself saying “That was him/her, too?!” And the score must have worked because I can’t seem to stop humming it.
“Cloud Atlas” is rated R for violence, language, adult content and smoking. It’s appropriate for teens and up.
It’s based on the popular novel of the same name by David Mitchell. Unfortunately, the film tries too hard to be great, when a little less overkill could have resulted in something extraordinary. Still, it’s unique and challenging and definitely worth seeing.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Cloud Atlas” gets a B-.