Re-incarnation links us to one another, there is no free will, we’re bound to one another in an endless stream of dilemmas we’re fated to live out. We can change it if we so choose, but it is incredibly difficult to defy fate. It takes almost three hours to spell out those very messages to the audience, and what a three hours it is. “Cloud Atlas” has a lot of ambition, with a hefty helping of self-importance to add to its genres, but it does very little to convince us why we should care. About anything in this movie. There are multiple storylines, but I never found myself empathizing with anyone really.
It’s all so unnecessarily gaudy and over produced that I was more distracted by the spectacle than I was by the attempts at humanity that seeped through every crevice of the narrative. It’s an exercise in monotony, as the Wachoswkis explore the very same themes they did in the “Matrix” trilogy. Free will. Fate. Destiny. Varying degrees of outcomes. Do we ever decide our fates? It’s all so dull and tedious that after the first hour, I was ready for it to all come to a grand close. I for one am a lover of philosophical ideas involving the endless stream of time and how we eventually meet one another again in the next life. Re-incarnation is an interesting idea, but “Cloud Atlas” handles it so poorly it’s tough to endure anything that happens. Even when we’re watching a huge chase in a futuristic city, and a massive shoot out as two lovers try to make it across a narrow bridge, I could barely muster up a yawn during it all.
There’s the tale of a young prostitute bound by his musical master, there’s a young Asian slave being freed by a freedom fighter, a young Englishman helping a slave fight for equality aboard a sea vessel, it’s just an endless series of tedious sub-plots, that intertwine without any rhyme or reason. There are hints of parallels here and there with the underlying theme of slavery and free will, but it never evolves in to anything but over indulgent tripe that fails to be dynamic or entertaining in the least. The Wachowskis have an enormous directing style here, providing some unusual contrasts between worlds, as well as offering bits and pieces of interesting dilemmas, but nothing ever forms in to a coherent film.
The performances are mostly phoned in, save for Tom Hanks who seems to be forcing much of his various characters and accents for the sake variety. He can’t really sell these different men, and it’s tough for him to really disappear in to the goofy make up and prosthetics. The Wachowskis handled the meaning of alternate fates and free will better in their “Matrix” sequels, and those were barely as entertaining as “Cloud Atlas.” I really wanted to view this adaptation as something of a masterpiece, but in the end, it’s a convoluted and meandering mess with too much happening, and yet nothing is ever quite gained from its viewing experience.
The Blu-Ray/DVD features a slew of bells and whistles, if you’re willing to come out of your coma to watch them. There’s the seven minute “A Film Like No Other” which is a glorified promo for the film, where members of the cast talk about filming, and the meaning of the film’s sub-plots in a nutshell. “Everything is Connected” is an eight minute look at how the parallel storylines intertwine and what they carry in similarities and differences. “The Impossible Adaptation” is a nine minute look at how difficult it was to film this once unfilmable novel from David Mitchell.
“The Essence of Acting” is a seven minute look at the various cast members and how they approached their roles of villains and heroes. “Spaceships, Slaves and Sextets” is an eight minute look at the multiple plot lines and the difficulty assembling all the pieces for one large epic. “The Bold Science Fiction of Cloud Atlas” is a seven minute exploration of the science fiction aspect of the film. Finally, “Eternal Romance” is an eight minute look at the romantic aspect of the film and how it progresses through the ages in this narrative.