“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.