‘Cloud Atlas’

Grade: B+

Rated: R

Opens today

Starring: Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon and Halle Berry


‘Cloud Atlas” is a movie that you’re either going to walk out of within the first 30 minutes or watch repeatedly in order to analyze the meaning behind every scene.

That should probably be enough to tell you if the film will be your cup of tea. “Cloud Atlas” may pride itself on frustrating the audience and clock in at almost three hours. At the same time though, this is also a beautiful and bewitching experience that will engulf anyone with a genuine admiration for ambitious filmmaking.

Somewhat reminiscent of a cross between Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” and Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” “Cloud Atlas” is a risky, passionate journey that’s deserving of in-depth study.

This adaptation of the novel by David Mitchel is made up of an all-star ensemble that includes Tom Hanks, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Donna Bae, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw and Halle Berry. They all play multiple characters in six stories that are separated by time, location, and genre.

The narrative consists of period pieces set in the mid-1800s and 1930s, a conspiracy thriller in the 1970s, a modern quirky comedy, and two science fiction fables in the post apocalyptic future.

“Cloud Atlas” is a joint effort between the Wachowski brothers of “The Matrix” trilogy and Tom Tykwer of “Run Lola Run.” They split up the work with Tykwer filming three stories and the Wachowski’s filming the other half.

How all of these tales are connected is difficult to explain. Through clever editing though, the collaborating directors give the film a surprisingly fitting flow as we jump between each story.

The result is a mishmash of six incredible, epic short films for the price of one.

Whether you love or hate the previous work by the Wachowski’s and Tykwer, there’s no denying that the three are visually gifted directors. “Cloud Atlas” is no exception to their portfolios of great looking pictures composed of awe-inspiring sets, cinematography and effects.

But the standout revelation in the film is the Oscar-worthy makeup effects. Sometimes you can single out an actor without any trouble. Other times, they look like completely different people hidden under all the makeup. Weaving is particularly unrecognizable as an Asian man, a muscular woman that works in a retirement home, and a devious creature in the shadows that looks like the bad guy from “Leprechaun.”

After a while, the film starts to become a fun guessing game as you attempt to decipher which actor is portraying which character. But the makeup never makes these stories any less involving or distracts from the performances, both of which are key to the film’s success.

If there’s one reoccurring fault with “Cloud Atlas,” it’s that the screenplay is a little too heavy on dialog. This is such a gorgeous movie that you’d wish there were more quiet moments that allowed time to stop and take in the atmosphere.

Regardless of its talky nature though, “Cloud Atlas” is still a strikingly crafted and innovatively structured outing from the Wachowskis and Tykwer.

A film as long, strange and expensive as “Cloud Atlas” seems destined to be a financial flop upon arrival. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if some were to even hail it as one of the worst films of the year.

This is definitely going to be one of the most split movies for 2012, appealing to an audience of acquired taste. I for one though, am siding on the positive spectrum for the film’s breathtaking visuals, inventive stories and prosperous collection of performances.

Hopefully more people will join me so “Cloud Atlas” will receive a worthy cult following.


• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at nspake@asu.edu.

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