5 Things You Need to Know: CLOUD ATLAS

Tom Hanks and Halle Berry from CLOUD ATLAS

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 


1. Cloud Atlas is an ambitious picture that spends almost all of its 172 minute screen symphony as a constant series of crescendos that all never seem to reach full fortissimo.  It is more about the connectivity between movements than about the sanctity of the movements themselves.  As usual, cinemetrician Zach Baron nails it here.

2. If you have read the book, listen to book critic, Kathryn Schulz: “Unlike the book, Cloud Atlas, the movie, is not groundbreaking and dazzling and brilliant and epic and all the rest of those other over-the-top reviewer words. But I also didn’t find it dreadful, or dumb. I’m glad I saw it. I’m inclined to tell other people they should go see it.”  If you have not read the book like me (my Nook Color has been housing the idle e-book of Cloud Atlas for several months now), Schulz contends there is “one massive, all important caveat. You know what that is. Go read the book first.”  Oops.   Prior to reading the book (I am definitely inspired to embark on the journey now), I have a feeling the following will be true: Often thought to be unfilmable, Cloud Atlas is all the better with both mediums in play, the movie would be better without the book as a comparison, and the book is likely even better now that there is a movie.

3. The directing units of Andy and Lana (née Larry) Wachowski (behind The Matrix, it’s troubled sequels, and the catastrophe that was Speed Racer) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, a one-hit wonder), each responsible for independently filming (completely separate crews, cinematographers, production designers) three of the movie’s six time period settings, make significant structural (telling all six stories simultaneously) and casting decisions (a company of actors playing different loosely connected roles in each setting) that will define the movie and it’s subsequent success.  Although I think they do successfully execute these decisions into a viable, beautifully shot and scored cinema experience, by taking this distinctive storytelling path, the final work is condemned to something less than the potential the broad scope of its source material valiantly suggests.

4. Despite some arguable truth to a few of the soul journeys in the actor/character connections (Jim “perhaps the film’s hero” Sturgess and Hugo “the frustratingly clear villain” Weaving’s through lines do succeed), the decision to cast the main cast in multiple roles was a forced convention that acted more as a hindrance, red herring, and distraction to continuity and connectivity than as an asset.  It was more about Tom Hanks (Look he is a cockney murderer from present day England!  Now he speaks an almost indecipherable language as a post-apocalyptic goat herder!) or Halle Berry’s (particularly super swag in her 1973 get-up, mostly forgettable otherwise) journeys as actors than about the journey of the soul.  By making these casting choices, team Wachowski and Tykwer lead the viewer down rabbit holes of inconsequence that are more about the wonders of modern-day makeup than about a well executed character through story.  In a movie in which the tagline is “everything is connected,” it is a cool effect (and do stay a few more minutes for the retrospective actor/character journey in the end credits that is a worthy summation of this convention) that is without real substance.

5. Cloud Atlas is unequivocally a movie (a pretty long one, at that, but worthwhile and enjoyable) that would have worked better as a linear, six part mini-series.

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about pop culture and the NBA for Bishop and Company.  His weekly X Factor column appears on Afterbuzztv.com and his weekly THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASONS Power Rankings can be read on Derek Kosinski’s ultimatechallengeradio.com.

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