Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

TIFF Review: Fitfully Amusing 'Cloud Atlas' Takes Too Long

by Meredith Brody
September 9, 2012 2:06 AM
  • |
The New Yorker Lana and Andy Wachowski

"Cloud Atlas" is a fitfully entertaining mess of a movie that one can watch with both open-mouthed amazement and occasional amusement. Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer both burst upon the international film scene with lively, splashy entertainments (“Bound” and the first “Matrix” movie for the Wachowskis, “Run Lola Run” for Tykwer), then quickly seemed to get bogged down in ever-more-lugubrious films and outright misfires (the follow-up “Matrix” films, “V for Vendetta,” “Speed Racer” for the Wachowskis, “The Princess and the Warrior,” “Heaven,” “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer,” for Tykwer).  

Their first combined effort, “Cloud Atlas,” adapts David Mitchell’s multi-story, multi-style novel, into its own even more complexly woven narrative, whose dozen main actors re-appear as different characters in successive time frames, suggesting soul evolution and karmic retribution. Acting styles vary wildly, with Tom Hanks often over-the-top and eye-popping, Halle Berry low-key and clueless, Jim Broadbent, well, broad, but game, Hugh Grant relishing his strange getups and characters, only one of which featured his boyish charm, and Ben Whishaw believably and consistently sincere.

Prosthetics and makeup people worked overtime, with considerable emphasis on teeth. Oddly, since Lana Wachowski, after gender re-assignment, is considerably more attractive as a woman than she was as a man, none of the drag characters (notably Hugo Weaving as a Nurse Ratched type) are at all fetching.  As “Variety” would have it, all tech credits are pro, with impressive set design and costumes, sweeping camera work, much CGI (a lot of it believable), and a relentless score (some of it meant to be the “Cloud Atlas” Sextet, composed by Whishaw in Thirties England and rediscovered by Halle Berry in the Seventies).

The Wachowskis shot three of the six main storylines (two set in the future, and a nineteenth-century sea story), and Tykwer the other three: England in the thirties, San Francisco in the seventies, modern-day England. The stories are intercut so quickly (unlike the inverted structure of the novel, in which the six narratives are each given a chapter, and then completed with another chapter each, in inverted order) that you never have a moment to become either engrossed or bored, though you often giggle in disbelief. Often the restless nature of the storytelling feels like a shell game, or one of misdirection, as with magic tricks or con games.

The initial frisson at seeing a familiar face in new guise (Susan Sarandon covered in Maori tattoos, Tom Hanks with shaved head, goatee, broken nose, and diamond stud earring) gives way eventually to fatigue and weariness: two hours and 43 minutes feels exactly like two hours and 43 minutes, and you wait for each tale to be tied up, triumphantly, moralistically, and simplistically, with chocolate-box ribbons. Audiences should be sure to stay for at least the first part of the credits, when the actors are revealed, in cameo portraits, as each of the characters they’ve played, and at least a few should come as surprises.


  • JAB | October 1, 2012 6:21 PMReply

    "V For Vendetta" is one of my favorite movies of the last 10 years. Ms. Brody is your real name Alan Moore?

  • Chris | September 9, 2012 2:00 PMReply

    How could u say v for vendetta was a miss , it has like a 8.2 rating on imdb and is one of there greatest works

  • Laurence | September 9, 2012 2:50 AMReply

    "Oddly, since Lana Wachowski, after gender re-assignment, is considerably more attractive as a woman than she was as a man, none of the drag characters (notably Hugo Weaving as a Nurse Ratched type) are at all fetching."

    I'm sorry, but that is so far from relevant and so close to offensive that it's unbelievable it got published.

  • DrewSF | September 9, 2012 4:57 PM

    I totally agree with the sentiments expressed by LAURENCE and RJ.

  • RJ | September 9, 2012 11:11 AM

    Thank you, Laurence, for being so quick to sum up exactly what I thought upon reading this. To minimize Ms. Wachowksi's transition by assuming she's an expert in "drag" is to casually deny her womanhood in pursuit of a laugh; this is one of the most grossly offensive statements I've ever encountered on this site, one for which I generally have a high level of respect. This needs to be edited immediately, apologies to Lana Wachowski and the Indiewire readership, and a serious review of Meredith Brody's future as a viable contributor to the site in short order. Details of artists' personal lives are occasionally appropriate and relevant to the discussion of their artistic output, but not in the form of prejudicial commentary that serves no purpose but to further propagate misunderstanding of an entire social identity group. Both Brody and the Indiewire editors should be ashamed to have had this nonsense appear on their site.

Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

Email Updates

Most "Liked"

  • Career Watch: Will 'Hit Girl' Chloe ...
  • Trailers From Hell on 'Requiem For A ...
  • Rolling Stone Names 40 Greatest Rock ...
  • Best of the Week: Remembering Robin ...
  • WATCH: Four Clips from Amos Gitai's ...
  • SPECIALTY BOX OFFICE: 'Trip to Italy' ...
  • Emmy Watch: Flying Under Awards Radar, ...
  • WATCH: Provocative 'Men, Women & Children' ...
  • Jason Reitman's 'Men, Women & Children' ...
  • New York Film Festival Unveils Auteur-Packed ...