"Cloud Atlas" is a film that will divide the audiences that see it that is for certain.
"Cloud Atlas" is basically 6 different stories ... that really aren't so different.
"Cloud Atlas" is a 544 page novel written by David Mitchell, which I have not read and haven't even heard about until this film came out. The book was first published in 2004 so it's fairly new as far as literature is concerned. And for the amount of material flew by in the film I'm assuming they used every piece of the novel and maybe even added a few.
The film starts off with an expected quick montage basically introducing the characters of the film. It is like a cold open before the title screen appears. This is mystifying and very confusing, but these introductions are all richly embedded in the story that hasn't even started up yet there barely is a warmup or time to catch up with each story at all. And that is off putting probably to audiences from the very beginning.
"Cloud Atlas" is directed by three people, the Wachowski's (whose last film "Speed Racer" did terribly) and Tom Tyker (Director of "Run Lola Run" and "Perfume: A Story of Murder") who is known for wild visuals and crazy pacing...seems like a good fit for the nature of this type of storytelling.
There is one word I've seen that completely describes the film 'Ambitious' and it absolutely deserves that. This is one of the most daring films I've ever seen. And it's not mildly R-Rated, like "The Matrix" was with a few drops of blood and maybe a curse word or two. There is nudity, sex, drug use, language, racist language and graphic violence in some scenes. It touches taboos of white actors being made to look like Asians, asian actors made to look like white people, and other ethnicities made to have stranger features...that I'm assuming other features that we'd have if we'd continue to bang other races. (Though there are mixes all over the timelines but I mostly noticed the future ones.) And it's runtime is a challenge in itself for some audiences. Though in a way I wished it were longer so it could take it's time with the characters.
At the beginning of this film after the cold open and being thrust into all of the different story lines I was utterly confused for an hour and 1/2 (the length of most regular films) and even went to the bathroom and contemplated just leaving and getting lunch. I didn't have a clue the purpose of the stories or if they would start connecting at all. If they were vague pieces with some sort of thin theme about 'love' as just an excuse to do basically 6 short different films I would have screamed. Luckily after about an hour and 1/2 the stories started to mirror and echo each other and after seeing the same actors in each of the segments while being so confused at first as to who was which (because of the soon to be oscar nominated and should be oscar winning make-up job) when I finally started seeing the details, I began to sit on the edge of my seat and rather than dreading the inevitable cut-to new sequence, which previously disoriented me, I began to anticipate it wanting to know more from each little piece.
The stories: (A gross oversimplification)
1850 - A man protects a slave on a boat while traveling to a knew land.
1931 - A young gay lover writes a piece of music that will be his masterpiece.
1975 - A reporter investigates a nuclear power plant.
2012 - A publisher is tricked (and actually I won't say what happens to him cause this turn surprised me and I thought was very cute and Jim Broadbent being mainly the focus of this part I thought was utterly adorable, charming, and a fun breath of fresh air from the other story lines which are about revolution, assassination, slavery, and other touchy deep subjects.)
The Distant Future - Probably the most striking visuals in the trailer. This is the story of a young Asian android.
The EXTREMELY distant future - (This part is the most CONFUSING. Why do you ask, because Tom Hanks and Hallie Berry and all the characters in this section do not speak a known english but rather a made up dialect of future slang, since I am used to films like "Trainspotting" (Mostly cockney rhyming slang) and "A Clockwork Orange" which has the made up combination slang known as Nadsat I was a little used to this technique in stories, which is true as the future progresses so does language, but few filmmakers other than Kubrick had the balls to do this side of the future legitimately, but then again Tolkien invented languages and people got used to this, but in a film you don't have the luxury of reading back...THIS PART IS NOT SUBTITLED. This film demands a lot of it's audience in this aspect alone, let alone the unique and seemingly unconnected nature of the different stories this film is ambitious.)
Without picking apart each of the sections I will write in this review my over all impression of them.
The books Wikipedia page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_Atlas_(novel) accurately spells out what each section of the film is about. But the film doesn't play chronologically, it's edited in such a way and so quickly to often demand a second viewing because just as something begins to turn in the story...it cuts to a different one and you are disjointedly thrust into that one without a clue where you are.
In a way it's like starting a book in the middle and cutting back to the beginning, then to the end, and back to the middle, it's utterly disorienting until about an hour and 1 1/2 (which is a long time to be confused and I can see why some people may mentally check out or get fed up.) But to have the balls to do it that way and if you have the patience for this type of story telling enriches the film completely, like notes in an orchestra coming together to crescendo into a beautiful note at the end.
I have already had conversations with multiple fans that saw the film this weekend and I could pick the 'meaning' and 'moments' of this film apart with them for hours.
It is like if "Avatar", "Tree of Life", and "Brazil"'s level of ambition and art had metaphorical film sex with each other but created an incredibly beautiful breathtaking emotional masterpiece. ("Avatar" and "Tree of Life" are both films I didn't like but one is bizarrely edited and the other is huge and Brazil is futuristically quirky, so that's my level of ingredients but for the purposes of this thought exercise imagine if "Avatar" wasn't trite and predictable (though some of "Cloud Atlas" is obvious in it's story telling nature...) and imagine if "Tree of Life" starting to make sense after a while. "Brazil" is the uncanny masterpiece of those three. And if you haven't seen that I urge you to do so...but only the director's cut. (The theatrical cut changes the entire nature of the film)
In all seriousness "Cloud Atlas" in some scenes reminds me tremendously of Terry Gilliam's style.
Imaging if you will that you're drinking a beer that has many flavors infused in it, spices, soaked in whiskey barrels ect... but it's your first time drinking the beer. Well you don't taste or pick up on the details you just taste beer. Now if you are say older and more mature in your beer tasting skills, you now pick up on all the nuances of this particular brew.
"Cloud Atlas" is a film for people who like storytelling and are familiar with it's methods. It's about the nuances of life, love, friendship, and revolution and the nature of storytelling. For as big as it is, it's best moments are the subtle ones.
A character is writing the score for the film. One of the characters is a pianist and the theme he's writing ends up being a part of the film's score. It's a brilliant way to do it in a film.
*I wouldn't watch this featurette unless you've seen the film.*
Best Makeup - Yes
Best Costumes - Yes
Best Actor - Which performance would you choose ?
Best Visual Effects - Yes
Best Art Direction - Probably, but the sets aren't showy in anyway, they simply show what they need to show. There are only two that genuinely stand out for me and that's a futuristic Cafe' and a set where a book release party is taking place. I can see "Lincoln" or "The Hobbit" having much richer sets than this did.
Best Director - Ben Affleck (Cause 'Argo' was fucking amazing) and this is directed by 3 people. If 1 person directed "Cloud Atlas" I'd say yes.
Best Picture - "Cloud Atlas" is one of the best films I have ever seen. The more I think about it the richer it feels.
If you've never dared to fall in Love. Than this film may not be for you. If you haven't the patience to be lost and confused for an hour and a half and utterly perplexed, than this film may not be for you. If you think films that require multiple viewings are cop outs. Than this film isn't for you. If you need storytelling spoon feed to you. Than this film may not be for you. And if you can't let yourself get swept away in things that feel silly . . . than this may not be for you. But otherwise. It's a masterpiece.
I am reeling to discuss every nuance of this film to those that loved it as much as I did. "Cloud Atlas" is an experience and not in that trite predictable way in which the word experience is used as a cop out for an art house film but "Cloud Atlas" is a genuine film experience. There are things, little things, to me, that would take other people, that would seem like bigger things out of the film. It doesn't piece together perfectly, some of the makeups are distracting while others work better, some of the awkward moments are intriguing and others are just bizarre. There is a character with a hat and coat (*In the picture above) which I do not understand at all. One critic said this film may have worked better as a mini-series, with more time to milk the characters...and I happen to agree with him. The pacing is distracting.
But there was an older gentleman in the audience when I saw the film, probably 60 years old at least, weeping towards the end. I guess he knows what it feels like to fall in love and live multiple lives. This film in the beginning requires a level of patience which is why I am hesitant to whole heartedly recommend for the weary but for those that have that it is a 100% absolutely must-see film.