Cloud Atlas (2012) – 4/5


Wacky, ambitious film that succeeds about as often as it fails, maybe a bit more, but is still worth being admired despite the occasionally poor writing, wonky acting, and overly simplistic, pseudo-philosophical themes. Oh, and terrible, terrible makeup/CGI on some of the characters, especially when the film tries to pass off white for Asian and vice versa. Just awful. They look like aliens. From a distance they look okay, but when the film goes in for those close-ups, man. Downright terrifying.

The writing is the biggest problem with the film, though. The film is entertaining, sure, but it’s also kind of stupid at times, and goofy. Everything is grand, but in a cheap, silly, artificial way. The tone too is always somewhat the same; there are no ups or downs really, just a middling simmer. And yet, it manages to remain engaging, just not as much as it could have been were the writing better and scenes more appropriately constructed.

The story is also confusing at times, even after a connection between all these stories is finally made. The problem is, **SPOILERS** the connection never really is all that clear, even at the end. Some very important elements are never explained, like the shooting star tattoo that seems to jump from person to person throughout time, or the whole reincarnation thing, or why they chose that one seemingly random Asian girl in the futuristic story to be their spokesperson despite her being removed from society for most of her life, or what exactly happened to the world in that really futuristic story where Tom Hanks is a native, or what in god’s name exactly was that green demon thing that whispered evil things into native Tom Hanks’ ear whenever he was in a position to cause someone harm, and so on. **END SPOILERS** The reincarnation element in particular is quite the head-scratcher; are we supposed to assume that every time an actor is used as a character,  **SPOILERS** it’s a completely different person with no connection to the character the actor played before, or is it supposed to symbolize the same soul being born again and again throughout time? **END SPOILERS** I thought it was the latter, but then why are some of the same actors **SPOILERS** evil characters in some timelines and good characters in others? **END SPOILERS** Maybe this is explained somewhere, but I didn’t get it. And it’s not like it adds anything to the story, really, other than confusion.

Despite the flaws, though, I enjoyed the film. It’s big and sprawling and ambitious, and though it doesn’t quite achieve what it sets out to do, it’s a step in the right direction for film narrative. The film is ultimately a big budget experimental film that plays with time and structure and character development and language and computer effects in a way we rarely ever see on such a large-scale, so of course not everything is going to work, but most of it does, and that’s the important thing. I just wish it were better written at times, and the CGI makeup effects not so awful. The film has some really funny moments, too, which is a plus, and way more gore than I was expecting, and one of the stories even borrows heavily from The Matrix somewhat. And I liked the kind of new language they use in one of the pieces: sure, I didn’t understand half the things that were being said, but it lent the story a unique sense of authenticity the others lacked for the most part.

So, decent film; not a complete success, but better and more entertaining than I was expecting, even if not all the parts fit together as well as they could have. And man is this movie long. Philosophy-lite, for sure, but worth watching if you have the time and want to see something new.

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