Cloud Atlas Reminds Us That You Can Never Cast Tom Hanks Too Many Times

Well, round of applause to the makeup artists… who are of course the reason we all go to the movies. I mean wow! You should see some of the prosthetics they had going in Cloud Atlas. Men dressing as women. Facial scars. The same actor in multiple roles! In the makeup world it doesn’t get much better than that. That is makeup artistry at its finest.

Okay, I’ll level with you. Why am I talking about makeup instead of something important like set design or lighting? Because I have no earthly idea how to describe this movie to you.

Honestly, I’ve been wracking my brain and this is the best I’ve come up with so far – Cloud Atlas is a historical epic about a dystopian future that also covers musical composition in the 1930s, a nursing home escape, and life on a post apocalyptic Earth. I know, it’s hard to believe this is from the same people who gave us The Matrix.

In all seriousness though I am cherry picking a bit. Cloud Atlas is a collection of stories from different time periods, hence the scattered description above, connected through characters that I guess one would call reincarnated souls… at least that’s what I would say being played by the same actor was supposed to suggest. Regardless, I think it’s safe to say that the movie doesn’t lack in ambition.

And thematically it all works for the most part. Maybe not as seamlessly as one would like, but Cloud Atlas tells some very interesting stories and makes some great points along the way. The film is never better than when it’s commentating on the difficulty of tearing down boundaries and the price paid by those who happen to be first. For that, the multiple storyline format works marvellously.

Still, something tells me that this will be one of those love it/hate it type movie. Some of the stories are absolutely more interesting than others, and which ones are which will entirely depend on who you are. Cloud Atlas has something for everyone, but that also means you’ll have to sit through material you might not be as fond of to get to the good stuff. Frankly, it’s almost like two or three movies in one, which isn’t that far of a stretch considering the film’s almost three hour running time.

My biggest problem was that it was sometimes hard to track each character – or I guess spirit in this case – from one time period to another. Not only are there multiple actors playing multiple roles, but there are single characters that will appear across two storylines as both their younger and older selves, or for that matter, a prominent character that will only appear in one storyline.

From one cut to another it wasn’t too difficult to see which theme the filmmakers were trying to explore, but over the course of the film the arcs of these spirit characters became much more muddled. That is of course with the one exception of Hugo Weaving, who I’ve now learned is unequivocally evil.  If you see him on the street run…

Anyway, with that said I feel it necessary to take it a little easy on Cloud Atlas. There’s a lot to this movie and it’s almost impossible to absorb all of it the first time through. In fact I suspect I would like it even more the second time through. Each storyline is handled well, and it’s just as strong when dealing with its science fiction elements as it is its romantic or historical elements.

Frankly, Cloud Atlas is an odd story told in an odd way, but when it does work and all of these disparate storylines start coming together, it’s hard not to get caught up in.

Plus it’s got Tom Hanks!