Movie Review: “Cloud Atlas” – It’s Definitely Something

Written by Jesse Gelinas November 04, 2012

Sonmi-451 escaping her ghastly fate in "Cloud Atlas"

“What is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”

I struggled with what I would tell you about this movie—Film! (If I call it a ‘movie’ I will offend someone, I’m sure). I consider myself a cultured person. I have been a major film buff all my life. Yes, I’ve watched crap like “Pirahna 3DD, and most things with Steven Seagal, but I’ve also watched great, deep, meaningful pictures, and I’m pretty sure I’ve been touched by them, and understood them. This “Cloud Atlas” falls into parts of the latter category of cinema. It is grand, and it is deep (I think), and I’m sure it has a great meaning for some people. I can definitely say it was interesting.

“Cloud Atlas” deals with six different, interconnected stories that are presented simultaneously in short and extensive scenes interspersed throughout. The stories share parallels in themes and actors, and serve to explore a deeper meaning. In 1849, a young lawyer attempts to reach home while fighting a crippling parasite. A young musician in 1936 is taken under the wing of an old master while writing his masterpiece. A journalist in the ’70s attempts to take down a major company’s deadly conspiracy. An old publisher in 2012 accidentally checks into a fascist nursing home. An oppressed clone in a futuristic Korea starts a revolution, and a peaceful island village in a post-apocalyptic world is threatened by a visit from an advanced society seeking an ancient power. This is about as much as I can say without spoiling anything.

“The weak are meat and the strong do eat.”

Let’s get the bad out of the way first. Occasionally a film comes around that tries to convince you there is such a thing as being completely and unabashedly blind to the colour of a person’s skin. This is both beautiful, and sadly wrong. The actors in this film play multiple characters, jumping time period, race, and even gender (Agent Smith is a terrifying woman). I understand the artistic merit by the Wachowskis and Tykwer in doing this, but it really just doesn’t work. The make-up in this movie is really impressive in a lot of scenes, but the race-jumping make-up is unconvincing and rather distracting. The Asian transformation of several Caucasian actors is pretty horrendous.

A silent dream sequence from "Cloud Atlas"

If I had one other complaint about the film it would be the pacing. While much of “Cloud Atlas” holds together well, there is a certain disconnect that rises from the juxtaposition of the many story-lines and the order they are presented. It is a bit jarring to go straight from a bunch of California prospectors in 1849 (sixty-one wagons, two miles long in a liiiiiiiine—sorry) to a futuristic Seoul with clones and laser pistols. While I like each story individually, the mesh just didn’t mesh in some parts.

“I call it the Cloud Atlas Sextet. There are whole movements imagining us meeting again and again in different lives, different ages.

Honestly though, this movie is something to see. The visuals are brilliant. The landscape of ‘Neo Seoul’ is beautiful, and the simple effects in the post-apocalyptic segments are pretty impressive. The directors managed to create and maintain each vastly different world incredibly well, and the soundtrack compliments it all wonderfully.

The prisoners of the nursing home plot their escape in "Cloud Atlas"

The cast all bring their A-game and most manage to play three or four characters convincingly. Tom Hanks (of whom I’m not a fan) does extremely well in his parts, and Jim Broadbent and Hugo Weaving both steal every scene they’re in. Weaving’s Old Gerogie character is particularly haunting. Looking past the few bad makeup choices mentioned before, the acting is great and each actor is well-suited for their multiple roles.

“A half-finished is, after all, a half-finished love affair.”

The plot is not something to be characterized simply. Each segment has its own plot that contributes to the overarching theme. There are simple in-story connections between the various periods (a found journal, a song heard somewhere, etc.) but each segment is fantastically entertaining on its own merit, and so incredibly different. It’s hard to actually slot the film into a genre. We get romantic drama, sci-fi action, adventure, mystery, fantastic comedy, and everything in between.

Hugo Weaving as Old Georgie (one of seven roles he plays) in "Cloud Atlas"

The Wachowskis have really outdone themselves with this one. Yes, as I said at the start the film does border on ‘pretentious’, and there are likely a slew of fanatics who will insist you have to see the movie twice or more to truly ‘get it’. I have to humbly disagree. If a filmmaker can’t convey their message in a meaningful way in 162 minutes of film, then they are doing something wrong. You should WANT to see a movie again, not HAVE to. Fortunately, I do want to see it again; not because I need to, but because I thoroughly enjoyed it. The beauty of the imagery, the powerful transformation of the characters, and the rather uplifting themes all make “Cloud Atlas” a great cinematic experience.

Just don’t blame me if you don’t get it.

My Rating: 9/10

Poster for "Cloud Atlas"

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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