There are movies that are universally praised, critically panned, and then there are ones that are simply polarizing. One group thinks the film is a marvelous genius of work, while other critics are baffled on how a film like this could fail so miserably. Those types of films seem to be ones with ambition, a need to take the idea of cinema and do something completely fresh and exciting to the medium. Enter Tom Tykwer, Lana and Andy Wachowski, who have decided to adapt a novel by David Mitchell dealing with how the past, present, and future are all connected in some universal way. Spanning different storylines, characters, and decades; Cloud Atlas is a film that wears ambition on its sleeve, taking risks towards creating an epic novel for the big screen. While, emotionally, the film sort of rings a bit hollow in many regards, the editing, transitions, and thematic presentation that Tykwer and Wachowksis pull of is nothing short of staggering.
A review on a single viewing of this film seems to be a bit of an injustice, as the two hour and 52 minute runtime is densely packed with ideas and story. The opening sequence perfectly encapsulates what and where the filmís journey is going to lead the audience, but this isnít the sort of film that takes the viewer by the hand. Instead, Cloud Atlas throws the viewer right into the story, jumping from storylines that span from the 1800s to a apocalyptic future. From there, the film introduces an assortment of characters in these storylines that are played by the same actors, invoking the thematic ideas of reincarnation and/or fate. Some of these storylines are more interesting than others, but Wachowski and Tykwer know where the fat for each of these storylines can be cut, and which should be more prominent.
Going back to the ďeverything is connectedĒ theme, the transition from one storyline to the other is, for the most part, handled beautifully. A simple edit from one storyline in the past that jumps to the future feels abrupt, but cinematically is nothing short of seamless. Thereís one part in the middle act of this film where the film goes back and forth quickly to each of these timelines, and the pacing never staggers or falls. Granted, there are moments where some editing moments ring a bit hollow in trying to connect the storylines together, but thatís a little nitpicking on this reviewerís part.
No, the only thing that felt a bit hollow in Cloud Atlas is trying to connect to this film on an emotional level regarding the stories. The investment for each of these characters and their predicaments just felt like going through the motions, never really having a true connection as a film goer to the assortment of characters. There are times where moments are funny, dour, and action packed; but the need to connect to each of these characters felt as if they were put at arms length.
Not that the actors do a bad job at conveying their different counterparts throughout the years, everyone is pretty much uniformly excellent. Itís an absolute blast trying to distinguish where actors like Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, or Hugh Grant are placed (and also acting) in the individual storylines, and that praise comes from the make-up team that radically changes each of the actors into a different race or sex. Sadly, there was a part in the credits where each actorís role in a different timeline was shown that this reviewer missed, but the ones that were distinguishable looked great, if a bit silly.
But thatís the cost that the Wachowskis and Tykwer are more than willing to make in Cloud Atlas. They are taking risks in this film that can either be construed as laughable or eye rolling, but they go ahead with it anyway. Thatís the price of ambition in that these three directors canít please everybody, and there could be a line down the middle in regards to who will accept or rejects the film.
Polarizing films can be a mixed bag, but there are certainly more interesting than films that are just plainly excellent or terrible. Iíll take a film like Cloud Atlas any day of the week from praised films, as thereís an uncertainty towards what type of reaction I will take when word of mouth is right down the middle. Thankfully, Cloud Atlas is an interesting densely packed film that has something to say cinematically, even if the story isnít as engaging as the film looked. But one viewing just canít do this film justice, and unfortunately the film has been pulled from the local theaters around my area. So, you can rest assured that Iíll be picking up the blu-ray/dvd to get more from this film, and maybe you will too.