The official synopsis:
“Cloud Atlas” explores how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, the present and the future. Action, mystery and romance weave dramatically through the story as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero and a single act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution in the distant future.
I’ve had the toughest time sitting down to write this review. I haven’t stopped thinking about the movie since the credits started rolling, but it’s hard to put these things down on ‘paper’. Words like great, awesome, and must-see just don’t seem adequate enough to explain how I feel about the film, and it would be a disservice. The truth is, the film is complex, and presents a multitude of ideas, but in no way is it off-putting. It’s not complex to the point it will turn the average movie-goer away, but it’s something the gets you thinking.
To better organize myself and not veer off into so many wild tangents (a good possibility when it comes to talking about this film), I’m going to try and discuss different aspects of the film and how they did.
First and foremost, I think it’s important to talk about the acting. Without the superb performances from all of the actors in the movie, this film would simply not have worked. Yes, the writing was good, and piecing the various films together was inspired, but the entirety of this film really hinged on how well the actors did.
Every actor performed multiple roles throughout the film, but each character they play is drastically different from one another. They are stark contrasts, and sometimes a complete change in gender. That’s part of the fun in the movie, it makes you watch a little closer to see who’s who in the various stories. The great part about it, was the make-up was so well done that until the credits rolled (where they showed short clips of each main actors’ roles) I had no idea some of the characters were played by those actors.
It was quite impressive from a filmmaking standpoint, and surprisingly engaging in from a narrative point of view. The idea of the six stories intertwining seems like it could become easily convoluted, but by having the actors play multiple parts, it helped provide an extra ‘anchor’ between the stories. Even though the characters were so vastly different, they were all incredibly believable. I saw each character as unique and it never once got confusing or even to the point of straining my suspension of disbelief. I really can’t say enough about the acting in this film, so I’ll cut myself short.
Okay, if the actors’ performances deserve the top billing in this film, then the next thing that made this film work, was the editing. A lot has been made about how the film (and book) is comprised of six different stories and how presenting that visually would be difficult. In truth, the book handles it pretty easy by splitting most of the stories down the middle, and following them one right after the other. When I read the book, it seemed a simple, yet elegant, solution to the problem, and I had assumed the movie would try and handle it a similar way.
They did not. Instead each story is cut within the other, making it feel more like one story instead of six separate ones. This seemed like a ballsy move, especially considering the same actors were used in each story, since it would be fairly easy to lose the audience and confuse the hell out of everyone.
Amazingly, this never happened. The editing in the film was so well done, that the constant switching between stories and time periods, never once felt odd. It actually felt like a normal flow of the story, rather than feeling jarring every time they made the switch. A big reason why it worked so well, had a lot to do with the editing of the film. It was handled so smoothly and at perfect points within the scene, that the cut itself felt almost seamless.
As an editor myself, I marveled at the skill with which this movie was pieced together, and it had a dramatic impact on the story as well. What once was a disjointed group of stories with more tenuous connections (in the book), becomes a cohesive tale that you couldn’t imagine working as individual stories. The film makes the stories dependent on one another, rather than just tales which could work separately. As I said, editing it that way was a risky move, but it paid off big time in the long run.
Cloud Atlas is filled to the brim with ideas that are prevalent through each of the stories. There were so many in fact, I worried the film would become over-laden with it’s own themes and turn itself preachy. Fortunately, they managed to get close to the line, without crossing it.
A big reason for that is because it did it’s best to tie it’s other ideas around a pair of central themes: equality and everlasting love. As I said, many ideas were presented, but the filmmakers managed to tie them all into one of those two themes. This helped keep the film from feeling preachy and convoluted, while still delivering a positive message to the audience.
It’s a tough movie to explain to people, and that’s why I worry it won’t be as successful as it deserves. I can see this being a hard one to sell audiences on, and I don’t envy the marketing team who’s had to try. In the end, I feel word of mouth is going to be the best way to pack theaters. So that’s what I’m doing now, go see Cloud Atlas. It’s well worth your time, and may be one of the best (if not the best) film of 2012.
Cloud Atlas, in theaters now, gets a 9.5 out of 10