It might have disappointed at the box office this weekend (although disappointment is a big word for a result that anyone with two eyes and a heart could have saw coming months ago), but in cine-circles, “Cloud Atlas” has been the center of conversation. The adaptation of the best-selling David Mitchell novel, directed by Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski and Andy Wachowski, and costing an independently-financed $100 million, it’s a bold, genre-spanning film with an all-star cast, and greater ambitions than pretty much everything released in theaters in the last month.
Ever since premiering at TIFF in September, the film has been splitting critics. Some have called it the best film of the year, a boundary-pushing, medium-changing piece of cinema. Others have called it a laughable mess, and among the worst of the year. While we’ve not quite been going to the same extremes, those among The Playlist team who have seen it are just as divided.
Now that you’ve had a chance to catch up on it, we want to hear what you think, and for a little encouragement, 5 Playlist team members have written about their own varied reactions to the film, in addition to our official review from TIFF (read it here). Check them out below, and let us know your own response in the comments sections below.
“Cloud Atlas” is an easy movie to marvel at, but a harder one to love. Still, like a soul being pulled through time and space, I do love it. A Russian nesting doll of a movie that seems conversely for everyone and no one, it attempts to represent the breadth of the human experience, in a spirit of universality, but is, at times, abrasively strange. There is something profound and earnest about “Cloud Atlas” (I think), underneath all the mumbo jumbo and there were moments, both individual and when the different stories bump up against each other, echoing and rippling through the cosmos, that genuinely choked me up. But at other times the decisions that the directorial trifecta made are confounding and seem downright wrong – why, for instance, didn’t they choose to replicate a different style for each section (black-and-white 4:3 for the pre-World War II section; a kind of seventies paranoid thriller vibe for the Luisa Rey section)? And why, for a movie that seems like it could be endlessly referential, does it not touch on any pop culture hallmarks? It stands alone, an archipelago with six islands. The biggest problem with “Cloud Atlas,” though, is that its dazzling narrative architecture, the toggling back and forth and braiding together of a half-dozen different storylines, also, at times, actively works against the movie. It’s hard to get a foothold in any of the different threads when you are constantly being jerked out of one and thrust into another. As someone who saw the movie with me said afterwards, “It’s like tourism as opposed to traveling.” The strongest veins in the book remain the strongest here (particularly the Sixsmith section and the Somni section), with some of the other sections taking a hit in their transition (I was expecting more from the Luisa Rey mystery, to be honest) and others flourishing in unexpected ways (the Cavendish section had a surprising kick, with Tykwer’s zany German sensibilities working overtime). All of that said, “Cloud Atlas” does an admirable job with a scale and scope that is both epic and intimate, and no matter how much you can intellectually dissect the film (as seen above), it still resonates as a singularly powerful experience. From womb to tomb. [A-] – Drew Taylor
“Cloud Atlas” is film of polarities, inconsistencies, pleasant surprises and an overwhelmingly hopeful, humanistic streak. For such a BIG movie, it’s far more intimate than expected. And while it doesn’t always get the little things right (the Asian and whiteface makeup that’s not racist, per se, but disconcerting, for sure), it absolutely knocks the big things out of the park. It’s a decidedly liberal film, and after a summer of blockbusters like the nihilistic, conservative “The Dark Knight Rises” (a Randian wet dream if there ever was one), and the cheerfully apolitical (yet willing to muck about with 9/11 imagery!) “The Avengers,” getting a grand, sweeping movie that is so unabashedly liberal like “Cloud Atlas” is a breath of fresh air. As the stories weave in and out of each other, discovering the themes along the way is part of the process of taking in this wacky, weird and wonderful movie. Of course, some actors in some roles are going to be more successful than others, and special attention must be paid to the delightful Jim Broadbent as publisher Timothy Cavendish, trapped in an old-folks home (his every reaction shot is GIF-worthy), Doona Bae as a soulful fabricant in Neo-Seoul, and the unparalleled Ben Whishaw as a struggling composer in the 1930s. It’s best to go into “Cloud Atlas” with as little preconceived notions, expectations or judgments in mind, and just enjoy the twisty cognitive journey on which you’re about to embark. As it expounds upon themes of identity, individualism, destiny, compassion, and karma, you’ll realize that this is only a movie that could be made by Lana Wachowski (and Andy and Tom Twyker). For an unfilmable book, I think they did a pretty damn impressive job, even if everything isn’t perfect. [B+] – Katie Walsh
There’s no simple way to discuss the maddening, problematic, certifiably insane “Cloud Atlas.” One could say what it is, which is the most adventurous American movie in years, noting that is not a recommendation or condemnation. So it is for the binary power of “Cloud Atlas,” at times ridiculously brilliant and brilliantly ridiculous, an adaptation that shows great integrity of preserving the mad genre dash of David Mitchell’s tilt-a-whirl novel into three exhaustingly cinematic hours. As a film, it’s not equal to the sum of its parts, and how could it be? For the interconnectedness of the premise (hammered home by too-obvious cross-generational casting) it’s hard to see the relationship between the longings of poor Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw, excellent) and the future-world caveman Zachry and his relationship with space mentalist Meronym (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, both awful). Still, the hold of “Cloud Atlas” is undeniable — as compelling as the existential crisis undergone by Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent), so thrilling is the segue to this storyline following the tense, shootout-laden journalistic thriller that spotlights how Keith David has been one of Hollywood’s most ubiquitous but underused resources for years. Most importantly, the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer have made “Cloud Atlas” cinematic – big, sweeping, grandly ridiculous, visually austentatious. Even when it gets bogged down in endless chit-chat about the themes being addressed, “Cloud Atlas” is always moving, always reckless, always brave. Not the best film of the year, by a long stretch, “Cloud Atlas” is sure to be one of the most memorable. [B] – Gabe Toro
Is “Cloud Atlas” that imaginative and “insane”? I was under the impression that the author of the book, David Mitchell invented the characters, the storyline, the connectivity themes and the very fabric of the entire movie. So maybe we should give credit where credit is due? Still, props to the Wachowskis Starship and Tom Tykwer for trying to pull off this ambitious adaptation, but I do take a small amount of umbrage for those that call it one of the most imaginative and adventurous movies ever made (maybe from a financial perspective, sure, but let’s face it this is a commercial venture and the product has commercial appeal). Had it been made from scratch, an original idea, then yes, it might be up there. I digress: “Cloud Atlas.” Well, you have to give it up to the film and filmmakers that they can make an almost three hour movie this entertaining and engaging. There’s about seven different movies in “Cloud Atlas” and the way they cut together despite being unwieldy and muddled tonally… well it’s a miracle the film isn’t more of a mess than it should be. My issue is that “Cloud Atlas” aspires to be soulful and moving with this deep “everyone’s connected” motif, but I personally didn’t find it that profound or moving. I found it to be entertaining, but the “we’re all connected/love is all you need/ truth will set you free from every oppressor” theme — the three main ones that seemed to be weaved throughout the film — a little bit simplistic and a little bit like platitudes. And then little things threw me out of the movie, like the ridiculous make-up and the silly British rom-com section and just some of the outlandish sections that were too goofy to lend an air of overall profundity. That said, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, I thought some of it was somewhat impactful and again, it’s pretty entertaining for a 3 hr film about the way humanity is tied across the sands of time and space. However, paraphrasing a tweet Kevin once wrote, I don’t think it holds a candle to emotional, spiritual and metaphysical impact of the “The Fountain” and the films of Kieslowski that generally say just as much in much richer, less clunky and more resonating manner. [C+] – Rodrigo Perez
I remember the breathless hype coming out the TIFF World Premiere for “Cloud Atlas” where the film was hailed by some critics as an epic, sci-fi masterpiece. Having attended that same screening, it would appear I was shown an entirely different film. The film I saw was epic and bold certainly but also deeply silly and kind of a disaster. (A completely admirable disaster, sure, but a disaster nonetheless.) While I have to respect the cast’s fearlessness taking on a variety of roles, races and genders, I’m afraid their directors have left them out to dry. Headliners Hanks and Berry seem to have been cast because of their international appeal and not because they seem particularly suited to these roles and the heavy prosthetics they (and the rest of the cast) are saddled with are extremely distracting. While the film does get marginally better as it goes along and rescues itself from the feeling that you are watching a disaster of “Battlefield Earth” proportions, it still comes off as an ambitious failure. “The Fountain” told a similar ambitious story with its lead actors playing different characters across multiple time periods, but it was a much leaner, more focused film whose climax reverberated across each storyline. Here, the stories are too scattered and disparate to take on any emotional resonance. As I struggled to stay engaged, I tried imagining who exactly this movie is for — an independently financed $100 million leisurely paced sci-fi drama pretty much rules out every audience, doesn’t it? — which is a reason to admire it. And while I can’t hate “Cloud Atlas” for its ambition, that doesn’t mean it works. [C-] – Cory Everett
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