It’s epic, ambitious and one of the most impressively entertaining films of the year. It is also bound to divide critics and audiences alike, as it has already been lauded by some to be among the best films of the year while simultaneously being panned by others as one of the biggest flops of all time. I am here to tell you that I categorize Cloud Atlas on the side of brilliance. I can also tell you that I sympathize and understand most of the criticism that this film will face, though I vehemently stand by Cloud Atlas as one of my favorite films of 2012.
Cloud Atlas is definitely not a movie to walk away from. You will want to enter it with a sharp mind and an empty bladder. Based on the book of the same name by David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas follows six different story-lines, interwoven and spanning hundreds of years. The earliest follows a shipwrecked notary in the 1850s. Another storyline takes place over 300 hundred years into the future and the other four stories take place anywhere in-between.
As confusing as it may already sound, Cloud Atlas is never dull and is a thoroughly entertaining, massive undertaking. I cannot stress enough, that this is not a classic “critic film,” where I am claiming to “get it,” more than anyone else, as I ride my high horse and raise my nose as some sort of elitist film snob. You don’t have to “get” Cloud Atlas to enjoy it, to love it. In fact, I would never claim that I fully understand the whole of it, nor would I fully believe anyone who would claim the same. But instead of being abstract and unreachable (I’m thinking of critically-acclaimed films of the past few years like Tree of Life or Melancholia), Cloud Atlas works on so many levels and over-reaches so many conventions and expectations, that I really feel most critics with negative feelings toward the film were simply taken off-guard, unprepared and perhaps a bit rattled that not every dot could be easily connected. Perhaps I’m wrong. As a critic, maybe I am supposed to point out each flaw and discrepancy. But as a lover of film, I simply am in awe. Even if this film doesn’t permeate your soul, most should be able to at least recognize and applaud the filmmakers’ aspirations.
Many identifiable themes stretch throughout the courses of time as presented in Cloud Atlas. It believes in…call it reincarnation, or the cycle of life, death and birth. The fine acting ensemble plays all of the characters in each of the different timelines, sometimes easily recognizable and sometimes completely masked in makeup and wardrobe. Take for instance, Tom Hanks, who in the future timeline plays a fearful man trying to survive an onslaught by a cannibalistic bad guy. In a past timeline, he plays a shady doctor who tries to poison a patient so he can claim his gold.
These actors are not so much playing characters, but are rather representing souls as they drift throughout time. Imagine that souls simply exist, and when you die your soul continues on as the flow of time pushes us all forward. Cloud Atlas shows a connectivity in each timeline linking these souls together, easy to follow because we are seeing the same actors pop up in each story. It tells us that yes, pure evil does exist (every incarnation for Hugo Weaving shows his monstrous disposition) and that there is a natural order to life. Also, that good people can make bad choices. It believes in soul mates. Fascinating, that in some lifetimes you connect with your soul mate, and others you may not. Much is dictated by personal decisions made in their past and present lives.
Although the film brings forth incredibly deep and cerebral thoughts towards our humanity and our “fate,” it also believes heavily in the idea of choice. In each instance, characters are faced with choices that have profound affects not only on their current beings, but on future incarnations.
If all of this heavy talk about past lives is too much to handle, the best part about Cloud Atlas is that it works on the upper most level as compelling entertainment. It’s a mystery and an adventure, a romance and a thriller. How this film is not a colossal mess – or an unwatchable jumble – is an achievement in and of itself. It actually ends up being the opposite, as there is never a dull moment.
This is a film that may require multiple viewings to pick up on all of the details, but it is also a film that is easy enough to follow if you choose not to over-analyze it. There was a joy in trying to recognize the different actors in each timeline, and if you stay for the credits you will be pleasantly shocked to see all of their roles identified, that these actors turned up as characters you may not have even noticed the first time around.
Has there ever been a more ambitious attempt at such a complex story in the history of the movies? It took three directors to pull off the six genres represented in this film. Their work and efforts deserve to be commended. I didn’t mind some of the shoddy makeup jobs on some of the characters (especially an attempt at making Hugo Weaving look Asian), because the rest of the film is sleek and beautifully crafted. Plus, for every makeup job that brings forth a laugh, there are five that are award-worthy.
In the film, a composer played by Jim Broadbent creates what he calls the Cloud Atlas Sextet. It is a piece of music that contains six overlapping solo performances. When laid over the top of each other, the six pieces come together to create a beautiful symphonic sound.
There is no better way to describe the film Cloud Atlas than that. These stories are meshed together to create a symphonic masterpiece.
Music, or films, are of course subject to personal interpretation. Like all melodies, there is a chance that the meaning could be lost on the individual taking it in. But that’s not to say that the individual can’t experience a wealth of sensations by just letting the music pour over them.
Let Cloud Atlas pour over you. It’s an amazing achievement in visual story-telling, a fascinating and intelligent view of the future and among my favorite films of the year.
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Run Time: 2 hours 52 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant,
Based on the book by David Mitchell
Directed by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, The International), Andy & Lana Wachowski (The Matrix)
Opens locally on Friday, October 26th, 2012 (check for show times).
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