Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cloud Atlas Movie Review

It’s not often that a truly ambitious movie hits theaters. It’s also pretty rare when a movie that focuses on theme more than story or narrative remains very interesting. Lana and Tom Wachowski (who directed The Matrix) wrote and directed this innovative piece of cinema with the help of Tom Tykwer and brought us an enigmatic movie called Cloud Atlas (2012).
Cloud Atlas is an exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present, and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across the centuries to inspire a revolution. Everything is connected: an 1849 diary of an ocean voyage across the Pacific; letters from a composer to his friend; a thriller about a murder at a nuclear power plant; a farce about a publisher in a nursing home; a rebellious clone in futuristic Korea; and the tale of a tribe living in post-apocalyptic Hawaii, far in the future. Each member of the cast ensemble appears in multiple roles as the different stories move through time.
Cloud Atlas is an impossible movie to summarize; that really was the best way to condense it. There are a total of six stories being told; they are interrelated and interwoven stories that span centuries. The stories have a chronology to them with a unique setting and set of characters. The stories are all told simultaneously, switching back and forth between each story. Usually the transition between the stories is logical, such as switching rapidly back and forth between two stories that both have chase scenes. Other times the transition is less logical, such as a suspenseful moment being interrupted by a calmer scene in another story, then returning to the suspenseful scene.
This makes the movie somewhat disorienting at times, but really makes you think about what the feeling, theme, and idea the movie is trying to communicate. According to David Mitchell (the author of the novel Cloud Atlas was based on), the movie is structured “as a sort of pointillist mosaic: We stay in each of the six worlds just long enough for the hook to be sunk in, and from then on the film darts from world to world at the speed of a plate-spinner, revisiting each narrative for long enough to propel it forward.”
A sizeable cast is used for Cloud Atlas. The cast includes Jim Sturgess, Tom Hanks, David Gyasi, Bae Doona, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, Keith David, Susan Sarandon, Halle Berry, and Ben Whishaw. Listing the characters that these actors play in Cloud Atlas would take a lot of space. Each actor is in each of the six stories, but playing different characters in each one. In so doing, the movie explores the concepts of reincarnation and how our actions have far reaching effects in a way that I have never seen in a movie before. It was fascinating to see how different souls kept finding each other in different lives.
The actors, Tom Hanks in particular, act very differently between stories as they play different characters. Sometimes they are depicted as different ethnicities and sometimes even different genders. Seeing Hugo Weaving dressed as a very convincing female nurse was a bit odd. But so was seeing Jim Sturgess with a makeup job that made him look Korean. The makeup jobs weren’t always convincing, but it did get the point across.
The art direction was absolutely stunning. Camera techniques were captivating, the sets and costumes were stunning, the special effects were spectacular, and even the color pallet and designs were different from story to story; it was simply fascinating to watch! Some of the stories were more action based, while others were more calm and emotional, but they were presented in such a way that really draws you in. Cloud Atlas hooks you right from the beginning and doesn’t let go.
Cloud Atlas is very artistic, somewhat abstract, and a very unconventional means of structuring a movie. Because it’s so artistically complex and unlike anything else out there, I could very easily see some viewers not enjoying it. I even saw some audience members at the theater I attended leave before the movie was over. Cloud Atlas took a non-traditional narrative, impressionistic, and even a poetic approach. There was meaningfully implemented profanity, and sex scenes. That is to say it wasn’t simply junk thrown in to give it a higher rating. I didn’t find it offensive, but it’s still not something to show young viewers.
Cloud Atlas was incredible. It was fascinating to watch, captivating, and really makes you think. At two hours and forty-five minutes it’s a very long movie, but not once did I feel bored. I felt like I was viewing some mesmerizing abstract art. And like any abstract art, Cloud Atlas will not appeal to everyone. If you see it and really enjoy it, I can sympathize. If you see it and are completely confused or even hate it, I can totally understand your reasoning. I don’t expect Cloud Atlas to make much in the box office; I don’t think it will appeal to most viewers because it’s so unusual. But I enjoyed it, and I want to see it again to try to understand more of what this film is trying to say. If Cloud Atlas sounds like something you might enjoy, I recommend seeing it, possibly twice. If it sounds too strange for you, then it probably is and I’d avoid it. Nevertheless, I think I would like to own a copy of this on Blu-Ray. It’s such an intriguing work of cinematic art.

Have you ever seen an experimental film? What did you think about it? Did you like it? Did you hate it? Comment below and let me know!


  1. Good review Dustin. Not as smart or thought-provoking as it likes to think it is, but it’s still an entertaining and interesting movie to see where it goes with itself and how. It’s probably not going to make any of it’s money back, but hey, at least it’s an effort that I’m glad I saw. For free, mind you.

    1. No, it's not as deep or thought-provoking as it would like us to believe. I still think it's good, but it's certainly not going to appeal to everyone. I liked it, I wouldn't mind seeing it again. I almost want to map out each of the six stories to see if I could find more meaning behind some of them. Like what was the deal with the Star birthmark? It wasn't the same person having the same birthmark in each story. I dunno.
      Thanks for your comments!