Cloud Atlas: Kindness and Cruelty Through the Ages   Leave a comment

“It’s a taught, sexy thriller!  Or it will be if I could just get all the taught, sexy bits in the right order.” – Malory Archer
“Yikes, yeah, you can’t have a flashback with a flashforward in it. That’s-” – Cyril Figgis
“Where you come in.” – Malory Archer
“Bad writing.” – Cyril Figgis

Top Line: Cloud Atlas is about two-thirds of the way to being a brilliant movie.  It’s got many top notch performances, and a couple of riotously bad ones.  It’s got a lot of interesting scenes and settings, and a few terribly dull and unimaginative ones.  For the most part it looks amazing, except when it doesn’t, in which case it resembles a bad episode of a Star Trek series.  So while there are a lot of things that could’ve easily been excised from the bloated, nearly three hour runtime, the good outweighs the bad and makes for an engrossing, entertaining movie.

Who (probably) should see this movie: People looking for an engaging movie who don’t mind a long sit in the chair.

Who (probably) should not see this movie: Those for whom recurring moral themes are an unmitigated movie turnoff and anyone with a small bladder. 

Box Score:

Runtime: 2h:44m – And oh man, does it feel like it.  I was ready for the ending long before it arrived.

Actual Start Time: Showtime + (only) 11 Minutes

Friday Morning Demographics: Caught the midnight show, which had about sixty people.

MPAA: Rated R for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use

There’s nothing terribly scandalous here, and for a movie with a lot of slaves there isn’t too much in the way of cringe inducing cruelty or gore. 

Should Be Rated: PG-12

Three Stars:

  1. Hugo Weaving – A Bunch of People: 
    Weaving gets the nod here solely because he seems to get more fun/villainous parts to play than most.
  2. Doona Bae – Also a Bunch of People:
    Has one of the most recognizable parts in the movie as the escaped future slave and does a good job of going through the fear, courage and revelation that such a thing involves.
  3. Jim Broadbent/Tom Hanks/Halle Berry/Others – More Bunches of People:
    This is explained more fully in Notes, but pretty much everyone gets at least a couple of good parts to go with some less than exciting ones, so singling out performances is nigh impossible.
Worth Seeing In Theater (Baseline: 2):

  • +1 (There are a few visually stunning set pieces that look gorgeous on the big screen)
  • +1 (Is the kind of movie that’s fun to talk about, and will never be more so than right now)
  • +1 (Certainly qualifies as “epic”, and those tend to lose something even on a nice flatscreen)
  • -1 (There are a few scenes and settings that look decidedly out of place on a big screen, however)

Final Score: 4

Worth Seeing Eventually (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 (Has more going on that most movies, and seems likely to pop up in movie conversations for a long time to come)
  • +1 (If you see it at home, you can pause it a couple of times instead of going iron butt through the whole thing)
  • -1 (Not nearly as brilliant as it thinks it is, so you aren’t missing out on any of life’s grand ideas by passing)

Final Score: 6

Bechdel (Baseline: 5):

  • +5 Easily passes

Final Score: 10

IMDb Sez:


  • Tom Tykwer:
    Best known to American audiences for Run Lola Run (1998) and the rather disappointing The International (2009).
  • Andy Wachowski:
    You remember them, they made The Matrix, and then proceeded to make a bunch of things, including the sequels, that ranged from mediocre to outright terrible.
  • Lana Wachowski:
    See above.


Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: 60% Top Critics: 41% Audience: 79%


  • The Rotten Tomatoes audience number is a lot more fair here.  This is by no means a masterpiece of a movie, but it is far above most of the crap that gets turned out. 
  • The movie’s structure isn’t nearly as complicated as it first appears.  Once you’re just a little familiar with the six main stories it becomes easy to distinguish them and see the connections between eras. 
  • Among the movie’s many less than subtle themes are cannibalism, racism generally and slavery in particular, as well as an ongoing insistence on shallow religious symbolism.  These do get a little annoying after a while. 
  • That said, the movie does have some fun playing around with the idea that human beings naturally sort themselves into unequal classes that then justify their own perpetuation with self serving horseshit, so we get a far future society where the primitive islanders are all white people while the technologically advanced super-people are all black, and a more near future society where replicated people are enslaved and treated like dogshit even though they’re still people too.
  • This may be inescapable in a film where every actor is playing multiple parts of differing age, ethnicity and gender, but some of the makeup effects work better than others.  In particular, Hugo Weaving doesn’t fit well into his lady makeup or his future Korean makeup, and there are a couple of character designs which fit Tom Hanks so poorly that I almost laughed when he came on screen. 
  • The same unevenness applies to many of the minor roles each actor plays.  Some work very well, but others feel distinctly undercooked.
  • The future dialogue in the story where Tom Hanks is the primitive islander and Halle Berry is the advanced technology seafarer is outstandingly well written and delivered.  It’s just unfamiliar enough to sound baffling at first, but it’s still English and quickly hooks you into its distinctive rhythm and word usage.  Each of the other stories contain at least some real clunky passages, but that part was a joy to hear from start to finish.

Bottom Line: Cloud Atlas is a big, ambitious movie that, while not nearly as insightful or profound as it thinks it is, nevertheless manages to be engaging and fascinating for most of its runtime.  It’s set in six different eras, and the filmmakers do an excellent job of tying all six together, not just with the same cast, but with many of the stories moving through similar emotional territory at the same time.  It would’ve been easy for the six of them to trip over each other or be less than the sum of their parts, but they compliment and flow well together, and all by itself that is a remarkable movie achievement.  Many films can’t even handle one.

Just as importantly as the narrative similarities (escape, redemption, trust, betrayal, etcetera), each of the six tales is given the full bore big budget Hollywood production extravaganza that makes the movie a visual feast most of the time.  Even the relatively pedestrian stories that take place at or near our own era are filmed and shot with a care for arresting images and outright prettiness.  Oddly, there are a few sequences, particularly in the future settings, that seem half assed, like the movie decided that a few geometrically nice walls are enough to make things look future-y.  This carries over into several of the movie’s fight sequences where the action is more than a little reminiscent of middle and low-brow television where stuntmen are defeated with laughable ease. 

The movie’s other big problem is that it is much longer than it needs to be.  This may be out of deference to the source novel, serious fans want to see all of their favorite scenes and such, but strictly for movie purposes the six stories could’ve easily gone through one or two fewer twists and kept the same amount of narrative and emotional heft. 

Overall, the good in Cloud Atlas far outweighs the bad, and the movie is easily the best Wachowski film since The Matrix.  Yes, it could’ve been shorter, and yes it could’ve taken itself a bit less seriously, and yes, the equality=good theme is overdone (particularly toward the end).  But the worlds the movie inhabits are convincing, and the stories told within are thoroughly engrossing for what they are. 

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before Cloud Atlas:

Skyfall – I have high hopes for Bond 24.  We’ll see.

Rise of the Guardians – Continues to look like a slightly above average pre-holiday popcorn flick.

Oz The Great And Powerful – I’ve seen this trailer way too many times.  I may already be incapable of being wowed by Oz.

The Hobbit – I’m not saying I’m rooting for this to happen, but it would be kinda funny if the three of these turn out to be Jar Jar level bad. 

WARNING: The comments section is a spoiler friendly zone.  By reading this with your inner monologue, you have waved any right to bitch about spoilers in perpetuity throughout the universe.

Posted October 26, 2012 by Charlie Sweatpants in Archer, Box Score Cinema

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