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“Cloud Atlas” (2012) Review

When I first saw a trailer for “Cloud Atlas”, I was confused by what I saw. On one hand, it seemed like quite an immense undertaking, and in capable hands with the Wachowski Brothers. Yet, on the other, I had a feeling that for all its style, it lacked the substance it so desperately was trying to convey it had. After seeing a longer preview prior to “Argo”, I was intrigued by some of the cinematography and beautiful scenery. With my fiancé showing interest in the film, and after dragging her to “Silent Hill: Revelation” last week, I entered the theater and awaited my 164 minute experience.

I will start by saying that there are few movies that have ever left me with a feeling of awe after my viewing. “Cloud Atlas” is one of those films. This is one of the most ambitious films I have seen in a while. The sheer scope of the film is nothing short of amazing, and the care taken to craft each world is incredible. The film features a wide variety of stories and genres (from futuristic action sequences, to sci-fi landscapes, to romance, to mystery, to comedy) across multiple stories that all blend into one overarching experience through some clever film-making and flexible acting (which, in turn, make the 164-minute running time fly by).

I’ll be frank; “Cloud Atlas” demands the viewer’s attention to be best enjoyed. There are multiple stories across multiple time periods and worlds, all involving a relatively small cast of actors (small compared to the number of characters in the film). The stories themselves vary from interesting to completely absorbing, but the breathtaking scenery created for each world, combined with some excellent cuts between stories keep even the less interesting stories moving and bring everything together (it also helps that the Wachowski Brothers still craft some of the best action sequences for the big screen).

Neo Seoul provides some of the most stunning visuals and action sequences (courtesy of the Wachowski Brothers) in the film

It is also necessary to tip my hat to the acting cast put together for this film. While Halle Berry still hasn’t made herself into a great actress in my mind, there are some great performances by all the cast, with each member adapting and evolving into each role as the movie progresses. It helps that the script and settings make each character multi-dimensional; no matter how large the cast of characters grew, every new individual felt as complete as the one prior. Here, I have to give particular credit to James D’Arcy, Doona Bae, and Hugo Weaving (in particular as Nurse Noakes) who stood out among some great performances from the likes of Tom Hanks and Jim Broadbent.

Continuing on, the plot itself is well put together and coherent, with some nice ambiguity to how the ending and connections can be interpreted. I was skeptical that the stories would reach a connection at some point as the movie began, but without spoiling anything or influencing anyone’s interpretation, I thought the connections were done perfectly, not too heavy-handed, yet not too vague. Some may miss the point entirely, but the parallels are there, and for the attentive viewer, the plot is a wonderful experience.

This scene, in particular, features some beautiful camera work and editing, and is enhanced by an excellent soundtrack piece

The last thing I want to touch on is the soundtrack. On the whole, it is quite good and each story features some unique work alongside some overarching pieces. There were a few sections in particular that really stood out for me, including the beautiful sections of the “Cloud Atlas Sextet” and what I would like to call the “heartbeat” piece from the Neo Seoul story (you’ll notice how perfectly composed and well-placed this piece is when you see the film).

“Cloud Atlas” is an incredible experience. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such an expansive film/narrative on the big screen. Even if you don’t enjoy some of the stories or the overall plot, I highly recommend this movie purely for its cinematic wonder. You will be hard-pressed to find a movie that provides such a magnificent experience, leaving you astonished at what was achieved on-screen. Closing in on the end of the year, “Cloud Atlas” is now among the front-runners for my favorite film of the year.

Final Score: 9.2/10

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