Cloud Atlas is six stories melded into one. The main idea is that these stories take place in different time periods but involve the same souls of the people involved. We have one story set in the present, three in the past, and two in the future.
The problem with a concept like this is that with multiple story threads running throughout, there is a greater chance that some of those stories are duds, which would affect the overall movie experience. Yet Cloud Atlas does a good job of avoiding this. Even though some aren’t altogether interesting (like the 1970’s detective story), they are all still watchable on some level. Personally, my favourite stories were the ones in the future settings, especially the 2144 story with the Fabricant, a new breed of genetically created beings. The beauty of this concept is that different people may latch onto different stories, which may in some odd way increase the likability on a group level.
One of the opportunities that Cloud Atlas has with its unique premise is the chance to combine these stories in interesting and original ways. Unfortunately it doesn’t fully use this opportunity. Not all the time anyway.
Technically, I did think it was very well edited. The different segments from the stories that were cut together in a way that matched the ebbs and flows of each storyline. For example, the two escape sequences from the retirement home and from the futuristic jail worked well together, as did Halle Berry as the journalist looking around for something out of place matching the tension of her in the future exploring the ancient temple.
This also allowed for some great scene transitions as well, both visual and auditory, such as the sound of horse hooves blending in with the sound of a train engine. There’s another great cut involving a car crashing into water as well. These are the sort of transitions which remind me of the famous matchstick sunrise of Lawrence of Arabia.
Make-up is a huge part of Cloud Atlas, since different actors have to play many various roles, many of which are not even the same gender or ethnicity. Unfortunately, the make-up quality is all over the map. There are some near flawless examples, like Halle Berry as the musician’s wife, where it looks great. There are other terrible examples as well, like Hugo Weaving as a female nurse and Doona Bae as the plantation daughter’s owner, which are very distracting.
But the one idea which could have really elevated this from a neat, fun movie to a great movie is how the 6 tales fit together on a narrative level. However, this is where the movie falls short. The whole time watching, I kept looking for connections to grasp onto to string these plotlines together, but they were very elusive. Even at the end, nothing really came together at all. Ultimately, this left me slightly underwhelmed and disappointed with the whole production.
Now I know that subtlety is something to be admired in film, but this movie makes me ask at what cost. Is there a point where it becomes over-subtle? In a case like this I would say that even though the connections between the characters and timelines shouldn’t be obvious, they should still be visible, and I don’t believe they are here. No, perhaps this is a case where multiple viewings will help us to latch onto hidden meanings (like the purpose of the comet birthmark), or maybe it will just reveal that there are no real connections. Either way, that feeling of inter-connectivity that the movie promises at the start doesn’t pay off. However, that difference only prevents this otherwise interesting film to reach greatness.