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'Cloud Atlas' Movie Review

A Complicated, Star-Studded Drama

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Tom Hanks and Jim Sturgess star in 'Cloud Atlas'

Tom Hanks and Jim Sturgess in 'Cloud Atlas'

© Warner Bros Pictures
Cloud Atlas wasn't what I expected it to be and, in this case, that's a good thing. The trailers left me ambivalent about its potential to entertain, and having not read the book, the promotional videos also left me confused as to what Cloud Atlas was about. Is it a sci-fi action film? A period piece with weird flash-forwards? And why is Hanks speaking in a weird dialect? Obviously, the cast gathered was impressive, with Oscar winners Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Jim Broadbent on board as well as Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw, and James D'Arcy. The Matrix filmmakers (we'll just slide right by any mention of their work on Speed Racer) and Run Lola Run and Perfume's Tom Tykwer were in charge behind the camera, adapting the massive David Mitchell book and directing the epic ensemble drama. With all those elements in place, Cloud Atlas was set up to become one of the most talked about films of 2012.

However, the buzz leading up to its October 26th theatrical release wasn't nearly as resounding as you'd expect. In a very informal poll of random movie fans, Cloud Atlas failed to register as one of their most anticipated fall releases. And even more interesting, no one could give a clear explanation as to why they weren't into Cloud Atlas.

And after watching it in all of its nearly three hour glory, I feel certain that it's going to be one of those films that divides audiences into love / hate categories. There will be no middle of the road when it comes to grading Cloud Atlas. If you're willing to just let it flow over you, Cloud Atlas is one of the most visually stunning movies of the year. Taken on a deeper level, the themes hit upon over the course of the lengthy production include human rights, reincarnation, and long-lasting love. Slavery is addressed in multiple storylines and there's more than enough mentally taxing material here to keep you engaged and involved in the different characters, as well as talking and analyzing the meaning behind author Mitchell's work long after a screening.

The film is broken up into six different stories set in different time periods (including the future), with the main actors handling multiple characters (up to six each), including characters of different races and genders. It's ambitious, to say the least, and works well for the most part. But when it doesn't work, it's brutal to behold. While Hanks and Berry are fine in a few of their incarnations, there were some characters into which they never completely disappeared. Also jarring was seeing Jim Sturgess, terrific in all of his multiple roles, as a man of Asian descent. Sturgess' Hae-Joo Chang makeup didn't work and the effect was like looking at the screen as if there was a slightly cloudy glass in front of it. That said, the make-up overall was absolutely stunning, and in fact the reveal during the credits showing which actor played which characters had the preview audience gasping a few times, completely unaware of who did what part.

The Bottom Line

Cloud Atlas has a sort of hypnotic pull to it, and I can't remember coming out of a film recently with the word "fascinating" so stuck in my brain. Of course, with so many stories and so many characters weaved throughout Cloud Atlas, there are likely to be portions that fall flat with moviegoers. And, those segments of the story will differ from viewer to viewer. Also, not everyone will follow the characters' through lines and see the same actors were used to represent, as explained by the Wachowskis and Tykwer, the same soul's journey over time. It might have, perhaps, worked slightly better had the actors not been quite such familiar faces to begin with, but the performances delivered by the entire ensemble cast for the most part overcome that distraction.

Is Cloud Atlas a film everyone needs to rush out and see immediately? No, it's not. You need patience, attention to detail, and a desire for something far different than the typical big budget studio release to want to sit through Cloud Atlas.

Grade: B+

Cloud Atlas was directed by Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer and is rated R for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use.

Theatrical Release: October 26, 2012

This review is based on a screening provided by the studio. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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