Cloudy epic lacks substance
Audiences of the new “Cloud Atlas” can be forgiven if upon leaving the theater they ask themselves, “What does it all mean?” If your assessment of a film is closely tied to your ability to successfully answer that question, then the occasionally exhilarating, often exhausting, rarely boring three hour “Cloud Atlas” may not be your cup of epic film tea.
Covering at least four centuries of time, six different storylines, and requiring its talented cast to portray multiple characters, “Cloud Atlas” is a visual stunner where the style outmatches the substance, its primary flaw being overzealous aspiration. Still, if more films shared the filmmaker’s unquestioned ambition we’d see a lot more good movies, (and fewer sequels). Directing credits include Lana and Andy Wachowski (The “Matrix” films) and Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”) and their reputation for flair is on display.
To dissect the plot would take as long as seeing the film itself, and a cast breakdown requires an extensive scorecard, so here’s the abridged version: Tom Hanks and Halle Berry portray two of the main characters in scenes that range from a 19th century high seas voyage to a 70s era whistleblowing drama involving a nuclear power plant in San Francisco and on to a 22nd century post-apocalyptic tropical island.
Those aren’t the only stories though, and Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, and South Korean actress Doona Bae are involved in other accounts as well, one involving the composition of the “Cloud Atlas Sextet” symphony and another portraying a futuristic “Neo-Seoul” where slave clones dole out fast food and other favors in a city that looks curiously like the Los Angeles of the sci-fi classic “Blade Runner.”
The most obvious observations are that the individual stories are in and of themselves compelling, but it is difficult to get into the meat of the characters because of the constant narrative crosscutting.
This keeps “Cloud Atlas” from being tedious despite its length, although it makes it almost impossible for the film to develop a strong momentum. The intersecting vignettes are linked by reincarnations or other common artifacts (a comet tattoo shared by various characters), and while it strives to convey a message about connectedness it becomes difficult to develop any strong emotional bond with the characters. That’s something that might be achieved with multiple viewings.
Again, not necessarily a bad thing.
The makeup and other cosmetic effects required of the actors is provoking a lot of discussion, which might undermine the filmmakers’ intent but it can’t be helped – most of the actors are famous and seeing both the garish and cool ways they are transformed is a predictable reaction. The actors redeem themselves quite well, and it can’t be easy to lose your persona and create a profound, unique character given such a heavily-partitioned script.
“Cloud Atlas” is a sprawling, visionary film that, despite its behemoth length and choppy narrative, can be appreciated for its ambition and visual splendor even as it defies explanation.
Those who demand answers should seek another cloud.
Rated “R” for violence, language sexuality/nudity and some drug use.