Movie Review: Cloud Atlas

Stars: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, Keith David, Doona Bae, Susan Surandon, Ben Wishaw, Hugh Grant

Rated R for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use , 172 minutes, Drama/Mystery/Sci-Fi

Compare to: The Time Machine (2003), The Fountain (2006)

 Starting a review for a movie like Cloud Atlas is like filling your plate at a buffet table: regardless of how good or bad it may be, you just don’t know where to start. Six different time periods, six different stories, multiple characters and a hundred different ways for each of them to cross paths. It’s quite a web to weave.

One thing is for sure though, no matter what role Hugo Weaving takes on, be The Matrix, Transformers, The Lord of the Rings or this, he will be playing the jerk. In this life, or the next. Or the next. Or the next. Or the- I’m trying to be witty, okay? Work with me.

As mentioned, the film goes through six different time periods and multiple characters, delving into how each affect the others life in that era, but everything is connected and what one person does in one life may have an astounding affect on what their future self does. Karma and reincarnation are themes on the forefront while the extreme changes in scenery are the background, from 1849 to a post-apocalyptic future because what other future is there? Cloud Atlas brings to attention that your choices don’t end with your life.

That was deep, we know. Atlas is the kind of movie that will turn off many viewers solely through it’s unique narrative; the six stories we view aren’t simply told one by one, but pieced together so that even the editing goes with the theme that “we are all connected.” The other aspect that will turn off viewers is the three hour running time. Get your butts ready.

The prosthetic and make-up department are going to be winning awards this year for sure. If you were impressed by Tom Cruise new look in 2008’s Tropic Thunder, Atlas is going to blow you away with it’s transformation of all of it’s main cast at some point. And it is a huge cast. Thanks to the amazing make-up department, each actor, regardless of race, age, or even gender may play anything from a Jewish housewife in the 1800s to an almost race-less explorer in the future, complete with built-in communication technology (a cellphone in her head).

Speaking of the cast, it’s no wonder so many actors got on board this one. It’s a role that can’t come across often because very few stories deal with the same characters over different time periods. It’s a chance to play the same role with a different twist each time. Tom Hanks is in every story, sometimes the main role, sometimes only in it for a brief moment, but each time his character is different while often taking part in a similar idea; profiting off of someone’s misery. Then the questions arise as to how similar his future or past counterpart will react in their period’s situation: will they act in the same manner or will they break “tradition?” It’s one of the more unique aspects that leads to such a unique issue.

For such a bold idea that’s put together as well as it is, I have to give Cloud Atlas credit for not only the idea (which of course originally goes to its author, David Mitchell), but it’s deliverance is thankfully, not confusing or cluttered to the focused viewer. That being said, the format of the story and the fact that as you’re involving yourself in a timeline just as they cut away to another may not take you out of the story so much as it does keep you at a level pace.

What this does for the film is create an atmosphere where you don’t necessarily care about any of the characters. If you like Tom Hanks, you may not want Tom Hanks to die, but that’s because it’s Tom Hanks. If you don’t know who Korean actress Doona Bae is, you may not care whether or not she lives or dies because we’re constantly being taken out of the moment. Not jerked out by bad pacing or editing, but smoothly transitioned into another time frame that by the time we come back to the story we were interested in, we’re now left saying “Oh, that’s what happened.”

So it’s not to say that you’re not invested, but your level of involvement is always shifting. All of this, and the fact that while the message is clear that we are free to choose our own path in our life (or lives), the filmmakers perspective on what that path is may come across as limiting considering the broad idea that’s toyed with. You’re free to be your own person…as long as that person breaks barriers and doesn’t do what they’re told. If you don’t follow that pattern…we can’t help you.” Sorry, Hugo Weaving.

All in all, this is worth checking out if you cared to begin with. Much like The Avengers, I’m impressed by the filmmakers abilities to coherently put together such a massive project. While watchable and entertaining, the narrative could invoke mixed feelings while the idea is limited by the views of some rather than the open, truly objective truth it believes itself to be.

Grade: B-

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