Cloud Atlas

Genre: Drama
Released: 2012

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

“Cloud Atlas” is masterful in scope but mediocre in execution. While I admire the ambitious nature of the film, I never felt the emotional pay off that was deserving after watching a three-hour feature. For a film that tells six different stories, you would expect more than three of them to be fantastic. There is something to say about the fact that everything does come together in the film but you have to tread through a ton of muddy water to get there. The muddy water includes strange make-up jobs, trying to identify A-list actors behind the make-up, certain boring story lines and a semi-anti-climactic climax.

As the film returned to the uninteresting elements, I would lean forward in my chair or get squirmy. The lean-forward-in-the-chair bit is never a good thing for me because it signifies that I have realized I’m sitting in a theatre and have mentally checked out of the film for that moment; aka checking your watch to see what time it is. When watching a film, there is nothing worse than your suspension of disbelief being shut off and realizing that you are sitting in a movie theatre. The goal of all filmmakers is for you to be fully engulfed in the story and a part of that world.

The concept of having six stories interconnect is clearly a great idea. Darren Aronofsky’s “The Fountain” was a bit similar in concept, having three stories that were interconnected over a one-thousand-year period. The biggest positive/negative of “Cloud Atlas” is the six main actors playing six different characters in six different stories. If you get bored during the film, you can at least have fun trying to figure out which famous actor is playing which character. Though, I did find it a bit distracting, almost like an animated film, trying to figure out which actor was behind the make-up. That took away a bit from the storyline. Oddly enough, you could tell a lot of the actors were wearing make-up; meaning that the make-up distracted me from the actual character. At times, I found myself saying, “Is that Jim Sturgess?” or “Is that Hugo Weaving playing a female character?” Many of the actors play characters of different races and genders as well. One particular character where I felt I couldn’t even see the actor was Halle Berry’s portrayal of a white woman. The make-up job was incredible and she completely became that character.

“Cloud Atlas” stars Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Halle Berry, Halle Berry, Halle Berry, Halle Berry, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Hugo Weaving, Hugo Weaving, Hugo Weaving, Hugo Weaving. Ok that’s getting annoying but you get the picture. The film also stars Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant. I’m not even going to begin to break down the plot because there are six different story lines. All you need to know is that these six stories are connected somehow and that the actors play characters in each of the stories. The main story, from my perspective, took place in the 1930s about the struggling musician who is writing his masterpiece, the “Cloud Atlas Sextet.” That masterpiece becomes the central theme of the film and is used throughout.

Let me say that I have not read the book and I was able to follow the film. Yes, there are confusing elements but the story aspects fit together just fine. I did find it interesting which of the stories I preferred and which directors were involved. “Cloud Atlas” is officially written for the screen and directed by “The Matrix” trilogy creators Lana and Andy Wachowski and “Run Lola Run” director Tom Tykwer. The Wachowskis acted as one directing team, directing three of the stories and Tykwer acted as the director for the other three stories. In case you are wondering, The Wachowskis directed the 19th century slavery story, the futuristic story based in Korea and the post-apocalyptic story where Hanks and Berry climb a mountain. Tykwer directed the musician story from the 1930s, the investigative story set in the ’70s and the 2012 story based around Jim Broadbent’s escape from a nursing home.

“Cloud Atlas” is a film that I should love. I should be sitting here gushing over its brilliance and the interconnectivity of the stories. I only wish I felt that way. I did enjoy the film but there were many downsides. When you have six stories, you need all six of them to be interesting and fascinating. I would dread anytime we could cut back to at least two of the stories because the characters weren’t intriguing. That led to a boredom and uncomfortable feeling at times which ultimately led to me not fully feeling the depth of the climax. Much like the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, there were many climactic moments. Anytime you heard the main theme of the Cloud Atlas Sextet (a musical score that a character composes throughout the film), you feel you are watching the end. One of the film’s biggest flaws is that the climactic scenes of each story happened at different times.

I feel the emotional blow of the film could have been much greater had they intercut each climax at one time with that beautiful piece of music. The other issue is that there were so many different characters and at least two uninteresting stories, that I didn’t find myself caring about the characters. If a character would die, I didn’t find myself emotionally hurt by that fact. I felt that my emotions were a bit diluted because of all the different stories and characters.

“Cloud Atlas” is definitely a film you should see. When you go in, expect to see flaws and expect to have slower parts of the film. I definitely want to see it again as I was intrigued by the story-telling and the editing. For now, the film receives a 3 out of 5.

P.S. If I heard Halle Berry and Tom Hanks say “True True” one more time, I was going to flip out. In the most future-based story, Berry and Hanks speak in a language that is so hard to understand that it becomes annoying.

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