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Cloud Atlas Review

By Mark Grady

"Atlas"? Shrug.


Andy & Lana (formerly Larry) Wachowski are nothing if not ambitious. Love them ("The Matrix") or hate them ("The Matrix Revolutions"), the one thing that you can count on is that their movies will be interesting, and "Cloud Atlas" is no exception. Teaming up with Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run") to adapt and direct David Mitchell's notoriously unfilmable novel of the same name, the filmmakers set their sights high and did probably the best job that could have been done with the material. Unfortunately, for all of the obvious effort that went in, the result is underwhelming.

"Cloud Atlas" is an exploration of the connections between people across time and space. Through six different period pieces ranging from Victorian England to a post-apocalyptic future, the movie follows a small group of characters through different incarnations. The relationships and their importance to each other varies, but the effect that they have on each other is constantly evolving...or something like that. Told in a non-linear fashion, the movie jumps back and forth between the different stories, but not to the point where any of them are difficult to follow. What is a bit distracting, however, is the unabashed use of makeup. Since the same actors play different characters in each story, the need to differentiate their roles leads to an overreliance on age makeup, dental prosthetics, and beards. Tom Hanks ("Larry Crowne") suffers the most, forced to act through copious amounts of latex and what appear to be over-sized novelty teeth. In at least two of the stories, it's enough to take the audience out of the moment.

The overlong running time of 172 minutes is also unnecessary and the excess is mostly taken up with a very slow start. It is the natural tendency to assume that a film of this scope needs to be longer than most, but that shouldn't be an excuse to meander. Tighter writing and judicious editing would have benefitted the movie more than the extra 52 minutes.

The acting, on the other hand, is generally top notch. Mr. Hanks does his usual reliable job (in spite of the makeup), Halle Berry ("Die Another Day"), generally more of a celebrity than an actor, raises her game and reminds us why she has an Oscar on her mantelpiece, and Jim Broadbent ("Moulin Rouge") is a pure pleasure, particularly in the role of the slightly unhinged literary agent. Doona Bae ("The Host") is a revelation as the genetically-engineered Sonmi-451, but that storyline is also the weakest. Set in the future and meant to be the lynch-pin of the whole movie, it lacks definition, motivation, and clarity. That she's a revolutionary and a prophet the audience is told, but the road that got her there is left barely explored. The only real sour note in the ensemble cast (which also includes Jim Sturgess, James D'Arcy, Keith David, and Susan Sarandon) is Wachowski mainstay Hugo Weaving ("The Lord of the Rings"), who once again seems to be in a different movie than everyone else. Mistaking anger for intensity, he delivers every line like he's punching someone in the face. It would probably be easier on all involved to just call him Agent Smith in every movie and leave it at that.

"Cloud Atlas" is worth seeing, but more as a curiosity than as an experience. It's engaging in fits and spurts, but is ultimately unsatisfying as a whole. There's too much filler and not enough genuine exploration and explanation as to the underlying nature of its theme. The most interesting thing about "Cloud Atlas" is that it will leave viewers with the brief and fleeting feeling that something profound just happened, but that feeling will quickly pass as the memory of the movie floats away. Like a wisp of cloud.

What did you think?

Movie title Cloud Atlas
Release year 2012
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary This adaptation of the notoriously unfilmable novel succeeds more at being a curiosity than a cohesive film.
View all articles by Mark Grady
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