Cloud Atlas Review
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Back in the late ‘90s, German director Tom Tykwer made a splash with his heart-pounding thriller, Run Lola Run. Meanwhile, here in the States, the Wachowskis were turning heads with their groundbreaking sci-fi adventure, The Matrix. Now, more than a decade later, following some hits, some misses, and some major life changes, the three directors have joined forces for Cloud Atlas, an epic tale of kindness and injustices that reverberate through time.

Cloud Atlas is definitely a tricky film to explain—because it doesn’t tell just one story; it tells a half-dozen stories: mysteries, dramas, sci-fi thrillers, and even a wacky modern-day caper. There’s the story of a wealthy slave owner’s son-in-law (Jim Sturgess) who falls ill while traveling home from the Pacific Islands in 1849. There’s an aspiring composer from 1930s Cambridge (Ben Whishaw) who sets out to make a name for himself, despite his troubled past. There’s a 1970s journalist (Halle Berry) who’s investigating a murder. There’s a publisher in present-day London (Jim Broadbent) who finds himself in a prickly situation. And there’s a futuristic servant girl (Doona Bae) whose story becomes an inspiration for generations to come.

While the pieces of this multi-layered anthology vary in tone—from the serious to the ludicrous—they’re all loosely connected by little things: an old book, an old recording, a birthmark, a favorite movie…and, of course, the cast. For each story, the cast generally remains the same; only the makeup changes. Although it’s definitely an intriguing idea (albeit one that’s not always flawlessly executed), it’s also a distraction—and you might lose large chunks of the stories as you try to figure out who’s underneath all that makeup.

Still, if you miss parts of the stories, you won’t suddenly find yourself hopelessly lost—because the stories themselves aren’t especially complicated. In fact, on their own, they’re all pretty simple and straightforward. But it’s the way that they’re all woven together—in a tantalizing series of short snippets, linked by clever transitions—that makes the movie such a captivating puzzle. It’s the kind of movie that you could watch over and over again, searching for clues. You could ponder and debate it for months. Yet you still wouldn’t fully understand it. Yes, it’s a little bit pretentious—and it’s definitely self-indulgent—but it’s still absolutely mesmerizing.

There’s rarely a dull moment in this three-hour epic. There’s a lot going on here—as well as a lot of characters to follow—and it’ll easily hold your attention as you try to put the pieces together, waiting to see how everything will come together in the end. Though the end may not be entirely satisfying, the experience certainly is. And, really, Cloud Atlas is more about the experience than the individual stories. It’s long and perplexing, but it’s also deftly told and strikingly, artfully filmed. And, even more importantly, it’s just plain entertaining.

Sure, you may have to watch this curious cinematic compilation a few times before you’ll even begin to make sense of the themes and philosophies running through it all—but, thanks to the intriguing stories and the breathtaking effects, you won’t mind experiencing it more than once.

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