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TIFF 2012 Review: ‘Cloud Atlas’ Is a Massively Entertaining Blockbuster With Meaning Behind It

By  · Published on September 20th, 2012

by Andrew Robinson

Film, like any art at its core, can be like philosophy in its pursuit of things not easily quantified. With Cloud Atlas it’s easy to say that Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer came together to make a film which spans time periods and geographical locations (some as far away as the edge of the galaxy) to show that as tiny as each of our lives are, they are still interconnected threads that shape things to come.

Cloud Atlas is the definition of epic. In the beginning, we see Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) at a typewriter, narrating his work saying, “I know that you’re tired of flashbacks and flash forwards. However,…” in a playfully pleasant way of apologizing for its misgivings. Then, the sprawling, era and personality-jumping film opens up to grow into something massive and wonderful. Don’t worry about the flashbacks, Mr. Cavendish.

It’s easy when watching Cloud Atlas to become too involved with the details to recognize the overall point. Each of the individual stories are all so enthralling that by the time we cutaway to another that we’re pining for more with the story we just left. Seeing each of the main actors, Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Keith David, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving and Doona Bae all appear as different roles throughout time gives this cyclical feel to the film which aids its thematic core. That being, regardless of what impediments stand in the way of righteousness, human nature will always strive towards love, happiness and togetherness.

With all of its philosophical goals, the movie still delivers from an entertainment stand point. It blends the deep thoughts with piercing action and brilliant climactic points to each story within the story. Although two-and-a-half house seems daunting, the film holds interest easily throughout.

If it has a weakness, it might be how casually it skirts some of its lesser ideals and some of the interconnecting threads between each tale. It may even be fair to say that when all is said and done its spectacle outweighs any real discussion. You know you’ve seen something special but you’re unsure if the film actually delivered any true thought.

It’s most evident in dealing with the birthmark issue. In each story throughout the film, a character is shown to have a shooting star-like birthmark which is never explained or discussed. It feels to be more introspection into the interconnectedness of all these lives, but also it feels like it’s a poor visual representation of that idea when the thought is more clearly shown through the parallels of each story. This is one of those issues that seems outside of the context of the film itself, though, and it’s more of an existential nitpick of a nitpick.

There’s a lot of mystery surrounding the movie. Fortunately, the film returns all of its question marks with a resounding thud on the drum of fantastic.

The Upside: The grand spectacle that is Cloud Atlas is one of the most entertaining blockbusters that actually has meaning behind it.

The Downside: It’s not long enough.

On the Side: Natalie Portman is responsible for the film getting made, as she gave a copy of the novel to Lana on the set of V for Vendetta. Portman would have played a role, but had to bow out due to her pregnancy.

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