Review: CLOUD ATLAS

By Laurie Coker

Rating: C

“This is boring. I don’t understand anything that is going on, do you? What is this film about?” These statements and others like them came out of my man as we watched Cloud Atlas. Less than ten minutes and he had given up on the film. I, on the other hand, wanted to and know more, wanted to watch the entire adventure play out over its monumentally long nearly three hour run time. Vivid imagery, exceptional make-up and costuming, and a stellar cast kept me interested and engaged even when the film stumbles over its own colossal storytelling efforts.

To give a summary of Cloud Atlas presents a task almost as monumental as the film itself. Several stories covering many times frames play out as the film progresses. It introduces six different datelines and storylines – 1849 South Pacific, 1936 Scotland, 1973 San Francisco, 2012 England, 2144 Neo Seoul and the mid 2300s Post-Apocalyptic Hawaii, where apparently humanoids revert to speaking caveman like English (a terrible thought for an English teacher) and we see how humanity is connected somehow by a chain of existence – past, present and future. I suppose, in a word, the film covers KARMA – in a big and at times, extremely convoluted way. 

Okay, admittedly, I, too, felt a bit lost, particularly during the film’s long first act, although I wouldn’t come clean it at the time. Credit I suppose must be given to directors Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, who co-wrote the script based on a novel of the same name, for offering enough substance, albeit muddled, to keep me wondering about the film’s pay off – its underlying message. Unfortunately, they keep it literally “underlying” for pretty much the entire film, leaving many confused, some dissatisfied and a few (those of us perhaps too invested) finding a glimmer of a theme peeking out in the elaborate affair.

The task here is indeed bold. One stellar cast, incredible makeup artistry, impressive costuming make Cloud Atlas a marvel. And it is a remarkable, gargantuan undertaking; who wouldn’t get lost – directors, cast, audiences?  Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, Jim Sturgess, Korean actress Donna Bae as well as Keith David and Ben Whishaw make up the cast and this alone held my attention when the story stumbled over itself. Each timeframe requires a different look – gender, age, race and roles change for each and the results boggle the mind; most play six or more different characters.  And their stories are equally astonishing –mad, mad worlds, often violent, loaded with pleasure and scattered with pain.

I found the visual imagery delicious and intriguing – what other film covers so many genres and uses three directors, six scenarios, and a dozen actors playing over sixty roles? On ambition alone filmmakers deserve an A.  Grant plays an impressive fifteen characters, and minor characters shine too. Whishaw delights as a gay man in the 1930s and aged in the 1970s, Broadbent provides comic relief when he ends up in an asylum and Weaving plays a Nurse Ratchet type who keeps him in line.

I can find many things about which to rave  in Cloud Atlas. I couldn’t stop watching -mesmerized by the entire ordeal even if it never, ever actually makes complete sense, even on the smallest level. Unless, that is, viewers are willing to make the mental investment. I can’t say I loved Cloud Atlas, but I can say I admire the effort, and I did not hate it like my movie guest did. I am placing a C in my grade book. I have a feeling most people will react the way my friend did. Invested enough, I heard, however confounding, what the creators worked to say – even if it is as simple as asking us to examine ourselves and our actions as we move though life.

 

 

 

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