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Ambitious effort fails to deliver: A review of Cloud Atlas

There is very little that can be explained about Tom Twyker and Lana and Andy Wackowski’s new film Cloud Atlas, which was released on Oct. 26. This confusion is almost expected given the dense material from David Mitchell’s novel on which the film is based—six interrelated stories spanning 5,000 years of time. The epic film follows Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturges and Doona Bae in these six stories.

Vivid and picturesque sequences swirl around some concrete themes, but the film rarely matures enough to deliver a clear picture. Cloud Atlas is certainly an ambitious effort, but like many attempts to wrap humanity in a one aesthetic display, disappoints more often than not.

Perhaps one of the more interesting themes of the film is the idea of reincarnation. There is a conception of an afterlife, but its premise is based on new lives that are relived to explore, as one of Halle Berry’s characters states, “why we make the same mistakes over and over again.”

Characters reconnect and reimagine life with those met in a previous existence to show that these mistakes can be dissolved in the face of eternity. The film implies that the answer to these questions has already been imprinted in our own spiritual DNA, allowing us to express random acts of love, kindness and trust amongst equally opposing forces.

To perpetuate the reincarnation theme, the same actors are used in each story, and this produces some very mixed results. At the best moments, the characters are sympathetic and very real, portraying the whole emotional gauntlet that this film seems so desperate to provide. On the other hand, you have cringe-worthy moments like Hanks portraying some cheap Vincent Vega look-a-like from Pulp Fiction.

As expected from a film involving the creators of The Matrix, special effects were a priority. Yet, surprisingly, the futuristic scenes lack a sense of ingenuity. The future Korea oftentimes borrows the same dystopian and mechanical feel of the Matrix trilogy, but these future humans are unable to release any palpable expression in the most relevant and sympathetic situations.

A similar effect occurs during the post-apocalyptic storyline featuring Hanks, where a reclaimed hunter-gathering world is portrayed with a simplified version of English. Not only does this contrived, almost infantile language make conversations misunderstood, but its also hinders the sequence’s sentimental moments. There was potential to communicate the emotional, humanistic similarities between sophisticated and more primitive civilizations without making the dialogue frustratingly difficult to follow.

With this said, the aesthetic details used to separate the temporal differences never distract from the film’s humanistic message. For a film that spans as much universal time as it does, there is room for some unexpected comforts, along with some anticipatory clumsiness.

It is certainly a film that I want to see again, if nothing else to get a better understanding of the project as a whole. However, I do not anticipate enjoying the film more than the first viewing. There were simply too many glaring blemishes, particularly in casting decisions and lazy storytelling, to conceive of this film coming close to its intended vision. Cloud Atlas provides just enough laughs, excitement and loving moments with fluid editing to provide a perplexing and eccentric examination of humanity through time.

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