Cloud Atlas : a review

Note: I saw this in an IMAX theatre and I recommend the experience. Not so much the IMAX, but the theatre. It needed to be sat through from beginning to end and be immersive. Any interruptions would cause me to get lost I think.

Cloud Atlas stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, and Jim Broadbent. There are six story lines and each actor above is the lead actor in one storyline. The other five play either supporting roles or just cameos in the other storylines. Additionally there are several supporting actors of note too: Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, Hugo Weaving and Keith David to name a few. Each of these actors also plays several roles.

When I say there are multiple story lines, I don’t mean interwoven stories sharing characters like Crash or Babel. These are completely different stories with different characters. They just share actors. They are set in different time periods: 1849, 1939,1973, 2012, 2144, and some time at least 140 after that. But the editing of the movie interweaves all the story lines. One scene might be set in 2012 and the next 1849 and so on.

What is the plot? Can’t tell you. That is I could, but each story has a completely different plot and feel. I’d be here for years just doing the recap.

Other than actors the stories share themes, images/motifs and a tenuous tie to the next story in the future. The joy of this movie is in part identifying those ties. Indeed just spotting the actors is challenging since often a cameo in a story is quite short and the actor is almost completely changed under makeup.

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. But I enjoyed it for the novelty and the puzzle of keeping up and spotting the ties. That is a fairly different kind of movie experience.

In fact my greatest gripe is that the intercutting impacted getting emotional engaged. It wasn’t until the end of the movie that I was really invested in what happens. Until then it was largely an intellectual experience. That being said they do reach some nice resolutions. Some happy and some tragic.

The performances? Each actor has chances to be good and bad. It is weird. They play such different folks. Sometimes a performance is subtle and nuanced. Sometimes it is over the top. (Often intentionally – Hugo Weaving as Nurse Nokes – an analog to Nurse Ratched from OneFlew over the Cuckoos Nest – is both hilarious and threatening.).

The stories? Some are good. Some are fairly dull. None are great, I think.

The direction? This movie is so much about the editing that it is hard to talk about the directing. The Wachowski’s directed 3 stories and Tom Tykwer the other three. Each is directed as a period piece in a different genre. Some scenes are excellent. Some are not.

It is really a weird movie to critique especially lightly.

I liked it. Quite a bit. It made me excited about movies. But I’m still not sure it is any good. I want to see it again to figure it out.


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