There are few things in life that people either love or hate with no shades of grey. Black Licorice. Law & Order. Turtleneck Sweaters. Well, you can absolutely add Cloud Atlas to that list; the three-hour-long epic that spans five centuries, six stories and a universe of character all played by the same eight actors. Confused? Just wait till you see it.
This was originally a novel by David Mitchell and it was excellent. It was easy to follow because with a book you can move at a pace you're comfortable with and there was no need to be distracted by Tom Hanks in silly make-up because the concept of the same actors playing all the different parts was conceived in the minds of the directors, Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix Trilogy, Speed Racer) and Tom Tykwer (The International, Run Lola Run). Yes, three directors were needed to throw a lasso over this story, which might be your first indicator that this is too much to take in.
First off, I need to say that the film deserves an A for effort. What these directors have pulled off is nothing short of incredible. It's a movie that is bold and daring and has never been attempted before on this epic level. However, the execution of Cloud Atas falls somewhere in the grade of D. It's a real shame because it's something I feel like is important for Hollywood to embrace because I'd like to see this attempted again. The problem is it's simply not as important as it thinks it is. It's also not as well done.
If you're looking for a bang for your buck, you'll get no better deal than Cloud Atlas. It's a three hour movie that has six different stories. Now I'd love to watch a 90 minute film that is about all of the stories involved because they're all fascinating. There is a story about a slave ship in 1829, two gay lovers lost in a WWII-torn world, a corporate conspiracy that involves a faulty power plant in the '70s, an old man trapped in a silly home for the insane at present time, a Matrix-esque revolution a hundred years in the future and a struggle with faith that takes place 300 years in the future. All are great stories but none are threaded together as much as they needed to be to make the whole thing worth while.
I was hoping for a deep meaning or a tearful climax or a common theme that flowed through all the stories. There isn't one; not really at least. It's more of an obstacle course in centuries that exhausts. After the first hour I leaned over to my buddy Dave and said, "I'm not sure I can do another two hours of this." He agreed because it was simply exhaustive to whiplash from story to story and never have any kind of big payoff.
The cast involved Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent (Moulin Rouge, Gangs of New York), Hugo Weaving (The Matrix films, The Lord of the Rings films), Hugh Grant (Notting Hill, 9 Months). All are noble for doing their best and attempting something so different. The problem with playing so many characters is that some will be great and some will terrible. Tom Hanks has two Oscars but does a British accent as a thuggish author so poorly it would be laughed at in a high school play. Not to mention that the rubber noses and plethora of wigs becomes so ridiculous that it takes away from whatever important message you're suppose to get.
Cloud Atlas may be a failure in my opinion but that doesn't mean that it should be disregarded. Just like black licorice, it will have its fans and they will be passionate. It deserves a viewing simply for the effort put forth. I hope Hollywood gives scripts like this a chance in the future. But as far as this sample is concerned, I have to average the effort with the execution and come with... Cloud Atlas (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: C