Cloud Atlas--an overly ambitious film exploring revolution, free will and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, with a prolific density of themes, characters and effects--is an unfortunately vacuous experience. And while I have little doubt that audiences and critics will be equally divided on its execution, I'm sorry to report that this nearly three-hour effort left me wanting.
Though I vividly recall its technical splendor, its relevance evaporated soon after watching two screenings of it at the Toronto International Film Festival. In fact, audience reactions were wildly different at each showing. While one sold-out theater cheered wildly at its conclusion (though I imagine the in-person presence of Tom Hanks and Halle Berry helped), a second packed-to-the-gills theater greeted the movie's conclusion with eerie silence and even some grumbling. I had more in common with attendees of the latter.
"I love coming to Toronto," Hanks told Boise Weekly at the TIFF premiere. "There are great movie audiences here, and I hope that they either love this movie or hate this movie. As long as they argue about it, that's what matters."
My primary argument was with myself. I truly wanted to like Cloud Atlas. It's one of the more eye-popping films of the year. It also includes one of the most beautiful musical scores in a while and the makeup and cinematography are groundbreaking. But alas, sensory overload does not equal entertainment.
Hanks is joined on screen by Berry, Jim Broadbent and Susan Sarandon (all Oscar winners), each in multiple roles, weaving six stories through past, present and future.
Their reincarnations are dramatic: Hanks plays no less than a cave-dwelling goat herder, a seafaring physician and a 1970s inventor. And your cinematic bucket list just isn't complete until you've seen Hugh Grant as a cannibal. Grant, also in myriad roles here, wanders in and out of Cloud Atlas but never seems to belong anywhere.
And therein lies the main problem with the film: Instead of a fully realized conception, the movie comes across more as a parlor game, beckoning audiences to guess which movie star wins the grand prize in a ridiculous masquerade ball.
Readers of David Mitchell's epic novel were invited to be their own time voyager across the six stories that comprise Cloud Atlas.
With such grand source material, the film's directors--Tom Tykwer and Wachowski siblings Lana and Andy--overreach and leave little to the imagination. Their not-so-subtle preaching about pursuits of freedom, art and love are more hamfisted than introspective.
Ultimately, Cloud Atlas left me lost in the clouds. But I encourage you to see the movie. If nothing else, Hanks would love for us to argue about it.