(Six Degrees of Complicated) Cloud Atlas Review

Cloud Atlas Review
by Bret Dorman

Cloud Atlas tackles the ol’ Hollywood dilemma head on. What is the ol’ Hollywood dilemma? People are sick of the same old same old, yet at the same time when someone comes along with something new they pick it apart. What it really comes down to is execution and tastes. The Wachowskis, Tom Tykwer, and crew all do a good job at getting their vision out there in a presentable to enjoyable manner, but the style is sure to turn away many.

Generic name dropping power cast list poster…

The Story: There’s six storylines that sometimes thematically intertwine and sometimes literally overlap. There’s one that involves a ship with a stowaway slave. One with a composer and his kind-of apprentice. One with a nuclear power plant and a reporter and mystery! One with an old guy stuck in an old folks home. One where a corporate clone is freed by some rebels. And finally one that takes place after some sort of apocalypse. These stories range from past to present to future. Also, a lot of actors play different roles throughout the movie via the different storylines.

Really there’s no point in me recapping every actor and every plot line and every action beat. I already try to keep all that stuff as short as possible. I’m pretty sure most people have already made up their minds on if they want to see it. If you haven’t, do it. If you have and are looking for some grand insights, I’m not sure how many I have. I’m not sure how “deep” the movie really is. The most confusing aspect is probably the actors playing multiple roles part. Cloud Atlas is not the story of Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, but rather the comet birthmark ‘soul’ influencing their own future as well as the world as a whole.

Generic face plastering poster spanning several timelines…

Every actor does seem to have a ‘theme’ of sorts. Tom Hanks somehow seems to betray someone in some way… except one where he is an actor, although you could say he is betraying the truth! Halle Berry seems to always be seeking the truth in some way… except the one where she plays a nurse… although you could say she is part of the truth of that story! Hugh Grant is a leader/string puller. Hugo Weaving is a bad guy/girl. Jim Broadbent is underestimated. These themes are all very loosely applicable and there’s no solid continuity between character or even ‘soul’ arc. Sometimes Hanks plays a lovable guy and others he plays a despicable one. It’s nice to see him go out of his comfort zone and I kind of liked how cheesy it was at times. These characters all seem like cartoon characters or comic archetypes. It makes the near 3 hour run time enjoyable, but again, once you start digging for answers you find the movie is more razzle dazzle and less substance.

I say this about the movie, but I do think The Wachowkis and Tykwer do think there is a message to be conveyed and a deeper spiritual and/or emotional reaction to be had. Since we are dealing with six stories we get SIX expositions, SIX inciting forces, SIX rising actions, SIX climaxes, SIX falling actions, and SIX resolutions. All the stories competently fulfill these basic storytelling elements, some more than others. Of course I like some stories (Neo-Seoul being my favorite, like most I imagine) more than others. What it all comes down to though is when the movie kicks into high gear, due to the nature of the story telling, it amplifies the climaxes to make for a 40 minute chunk of the movie riveting (again, some more riveting than others). I’m sure most will find the six expositions sort of dull, but honestly, since the movie cut back and forth so much, I was never bored.

Artsier ‘meaning of life’ celestial type poster…

The six stories span over six genres. These genres are… Ocean Sea-faring ship genre, Old timey British genre, 70’s ‘political’ mystery-thriller, Bumbling British comedy genre, Super cool dystopian high tech future genre, and lastly Odd apocalypse genre. The genres all look the part when it comes to the art direction. They all sound the part when it comes to dialogue. But when it comes to cinematic vibe, they all feel… a bit “normal.” I’d love to have seen each segment filmed like its genre. Or at least see the directors’ unique style come through. Or course, one possible explanation as to why this doesn’t happen is this needs to feel like one soul’s story and we are already jumping around quite a bit. Also, the movie has three different directors (two acting a a single directing unit) tackling three segments each.

Again, I wasn’t deeply moved. I was more interested in the techniques than the stories themselves. Each segment seems fine as its own movie (although some squish some parts together, mostly the endings, one of which shoe-horns in a silly happy ending out of left field). When you go back and think about the details, each movie is very basic. A lot of people will feel the need (after the movie) to separate the stories, gather their bearings, and find the meaning. But like how Memento is all divided up into intertwining backwards and forwards moments or Reservoir Dogs is broken into chapters that reveal info out of chronological order but in a way to heighten the drama; Cloud Atlas and its storytelling can’t be separated. The film needs to be viewed with all the stories mixing up together. Again, you have six stories all hitting theirs highs at all the same time. That’s the kind of thing that can’t be described. If you’re willing to overlook the simplistic nature and forced gimmick for just a little bit, it has quite the impact.

(Usually I’m “anti-trailer” but this 6 minute piece is a work of art in and of itself…)

In Conclusion, it’s always nice to see a movie that gives you hope. Whether it’s hope for an afterlife, hope for a legacy, or hope that good will somehow always triumph over evil in some way; I like the message the movie is offering, although most of that message is surface level. I think the movie is daring, beautiful, and unique, which is something movie movies could try. I do think the filmmakers and cast put their hearts into this movie. Ultimately I think the Cloud Atlas is worth watching, I’m just not sure everything clicked with me personally. But I appreciate the effort.

Final Grade: B

The Many Faces of Hugo Weaving.

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