Cloud Atlas (2012)

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“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 centuries to inspire a revolution.” (IMDb)

Juggling around numerous plot lines, settings, genres, and characters, the Wachowskis’ latest is a sweeping epic of a film. It is such an odd mixture of large-scale, visionary filmmaking and philosophical inquiry that there is enough ambition packed into its nearly three hour runtime to supply several movies. But somehow the film traverses the universe, captures all of its wondrous beauty, and still remains emotionally cold.

The most intriguing moments of Cloud Atlas come in the first ten minutes. The film introduces each of its stories swiftly and skillfully, jumping quickly from setting to setting. When the words “Cloud Atlas” finally appeared on the screen, I was excited to see what would come next. Ironically, time constraints haunt the film as it is forced to continue at break-neck speed in order to maintain its ambition during the rest of the film. For this reason, I eventually lost so much interest in the various stories that I no longer cared about what happened to the characters in the end.

Three hours is a challenging amount of time for someone to commit to a film. Cloud Atlas is not only very close to lasting three hours, but it is also a challenging movie in other aspects. Like P.T. Anderson’s The Master, it is a movie that seems “designed to be misunderstood” by many audiences. Yet Cloud Atlas undoubtedly wants to be understood, so much so that it sketches simple characters in situations that seem stolen from genre films that we have already seen. There are a few exceptions: some of the stories are interesting but some are also forgettable. The film repeatedly skips across time in search of a universal truth that can cement its stories together. When it finally finds it, the film closes in a moving finale that was at least an hour overdue.

There is an answer to the Cloud Atlas mystery, but it was less significant than what I was expecting after hours and hours of waiting. The film is not terribly boring or necessarily badly-made, but it is too ambitious for its own good. I usually make a point to applaud this type of film; one that defies or modifies convention. However, Cloud Atlas is a mediocre attempt at visionary filmmaking and a case of ‘style over substance’ that pretends it has more substance than it does.

C+

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22 responses to “Cloud Atlas (2012)

    • Yeah, I didn’t connect to the movie unfortunately, but I’m still interested in checking the book out at some point. Thanks, Joseph!

  1. Great post, and I haven’t seen the film! I’ve been waiting. Your review Reminds me of the mixed views I’ve heard over the months. Gosh, I need to see this. “Too ambitious”. HHmm. I will think about that when I watch it. NIce!

    • Thanks Cindy! Ambition is almost always a great thing, but I didn’t think that the film handled all of its ideas in the right way. I won’t discourage you from seeing it though. There are plenty of people who like it a lot more than I do. :)

  2. I really didn’t care for this film at all. It didn’t test me intellectually. It tested my endurance. It was laborious getting through it.

    • That’s pretty much how I feel. There was just too much going on and it all felt almost pointless to me. I can’t say I was bored the entire time, but it wasn’t a fun watch either. I did enjoy watching the (SPOILER ALERT) old people break out of the nursing home (END OF SPOILER), but that shouldn’t really be the highlight of a film like this. :)

  3. I have to say that I’m one of the fans of this film, Garrett. Admittedly some plot strands were tenuously linked but overall I really connected with it. I think it’s ambition paid off dividends.

    • It probably does come down to whether or not you connect. I didn’t, but I’m glad you were able to. There are some good ideas, I just didn’t think that they were pieced together well.

  4. The style over substance argument is justified, I feel that way at times but I still enjoyed it for the most part. Some segments are more compelling than others, I actually like the story in Neo-Seoul. I was thinking of rewatching this one this weekend as my hubby hasn’t seen it, but it’s such a long film we have to kinda plan for it.

    • I really wanted to like it. The movie isn’t awful, but for a film that demands a lot of time, it was quite disappointing that I didn’t take much away from it. The stories are a mixed bag for me; I probably liked the one about the publisher the most. Perhaps I’ll revisit it in a year or so to see if I feel the same. Glad you were able to mostly like it though. :)

      By the way, I saw Man of Steel. Despite some significant flaws, I really enjoyed it. My review should be up in the next few hours.

      • I hear ya! It is such a long film and it could’ve been so much more compelling as the premise is actually pretty cool.

        Glad you like Man of Steel. My in-depth review’s been up for some time but I still enjoy talking about it. Let’s compare notes :D

  5. I liked Cloud Atlas but was so-so on The Master. Go figure. I think I liked the message it delivered passed down from generations. Plus it was visually stunning.

    • The Master took me a second viewing to come around to. Perhaps that’s what it’ll take with this one as well. It did look great though, very impressive in that aspect.

  6. I actually really enjoyed this, although I can see why some people weren’t enamored with it. I do feel like I need to watch it again in order to completely get it though as I feel I missed out on loads of stuff.

  7. Pingback: Movie Report Card: June 2013 | Cinema Train·

  8. Nice review dude, I may just keep this thing at an arm’s length and not see it. I had such high hopes for it when first trailers were being released. Sometimes maybe imagining a film is better than seeing it. Cloud Atlas seems to be a good example with it’s extremely mixed reviews.

    • I was so excited about seeming this after I saw the trailer, but it really disappointed me. It’s ambitious, I’ll give it that, but it doesn’t become all that it could have been.

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