An Early Review of Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas is many things. It's creative. It's beautifully shot and really gorgeous to look at. It's well-acted. From a director's standpoint, it's well-crafted. It's well-edited. It's almost guaranteed to win an Academy Award for Best Make-Up if there's any justice in the world (seriously, if this movie doesn't win that award, you'll find me on the roof screaming, "Can we have a civilization?!?". And it's damn sure ambitious. But the real question is, "is it any good?"

The short answer is, "I have no idea."

Yeah, you're going to need the long answer here. Cloud Atlas is really six separate but connected stories. The narrative flashes back and forth between stories as the connections between them, both thematic and literal, are slowly revealed. For the most part, the same group of actors appears in each story, some of them so disguised by make-up that I didn't recognize them until the montage during the credits that reveals exactly who was who (the make-up is so good that at one point Halle Berry plays an old, male, Asian doctor and I had no idea it was her). The stories take place at different points in time: one during the 19th century, one between World War I and World War II, one in the 1970's, one in 2012, one in the near future, and one in the not-so-near-future. Some stories work better than others; for my money, the one in the present day is the best one, as it features Jim Broadbent leading an escape from an old age home, while the one in the not-so-near-future, with it's slightly different and sometimes incomprehensible version of the English language probably fails the hardest.

The other place Cloud Atlas failed horribly, at least for me, is in the narrative character monologues that play over a lot of scene transitions. Their messages about life, love, fate, slavery, and whatever else the Wachowskis and the book's author were trying to get across are about as subtle as a jackhammer to the base of the skull. I don't know if they were trying to be extraordinarily overt with the monologues to make up for how closely you had to pay attention to the unspoken connections between the story, but they ended up riding two separate extremes instead of walking the balance.

As my oft-mentioned cohort Jabba, who joined me at an advance screening of the film last night, said in his surprisingly succinct review, "heavy-handed and self-indulgent... but great make-up effects."

He isn't wrong about anything he said, but that doesn't mean the movie isn't worth watching. In fact, much like Inception, you probably have to watch it two or three times to really get your money's worth out of it... except, with a running time of 172 minutes, that's a bit of a taunting task.

Still, as a final word, see the movie. It's worth watching, to see what you get out of it.

And if you do see it. let me know what you think!


  1. Good review Jim. This movie definitely isn’t as smart or mind-boggling as it may think, but it sure as hell is entertaining to watch and I couldn’t keep my eyes away from the screen. It was weird, though, because I didn’t really feel anything when it was all over.

    1. Thanks! It definitely didn't connect with me emotionally the way they were probably hoping; I think part of that might have been the overwhelmingly obvious dialogue. A lot of it had me rolling my eyes and laughing at how unsubtle it was, to the point that the message itself wasn't getting through in a way it would have if they had just let the movie speak for itself.


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