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Buffalo Chips: Movie Review – Cloud Atlas

Finally, a movie appears with a little bit of originality that doesn’t involve a five-film contract. 
In the three-ring circus of a movie, “Cloud Atlas,” released Oct. 26 and rated R, will have your headspinning
with ideas while your senses are entertained, something Hollywood has apparently forgotten how to do.

The plot is thick and complex, so I’ll just give the run-down on the concept. Basically, it’s an exploration into how everyone’s life is affected by the actions in the past, present and future and how certain individuals are connected to us in other lives.  As a book adaption of the same name written by David Mitchell, it is told through six story lines, all connecting somehow, beginning in the 19th century and ending way into the 23rd and beyond. In retrospect, it makes that feeling of déjà vu seem philosophical.

It deals with some of the most basic factors for existence, such as trust, greed, love, the difference between right and wrong and the impact or “ripple effect” of one person’s actions that have the potential to change history.

What’s so interesting about this film is that it was made by three directors: German-bred Tom Tykwer and siblings Lana and Andy Wachowski. Tykwer took three of the stories while the Wachowski team filmed the other three, and in the end, all were merged into one big story line—not only was it gutsy, it worked.

But let’s face it, folks: this movie had the potential to be horrendous, on so many levels. First, you’ve got a huge cast of A-listers, all of which could have pulled too hard on their own strings to stand out. Big lists like that never end well. Secondly, the novel gives you something a film simply can’t: room for imagination. Especially with the futuristic periods, we could’ve been big cheesin’ on graphics and ideas.

That said, this movie’s not completely out of the doghouse just yet. I did have some reservations with the film in a few key elements. The novel is constructed to where it begins with the first segment, tells about half the story, moves on to the next, and so on. From there, it goes to reverse and finishes back with the ending to first story. In the film, we get short snippets of each story all intertwined with each other, making it difficult to follow or even know which century you’re in. In the span of the entire almost-three-hour film, that leaves less than 30 minutes to depict each story. Now, I haven’t read the book, but that hardly seems ample time to develop any of the countless characters, and that’s bad business considering the whole idea is to show the connectivity and development coming from past lives. It does make sense to chop the plot up that way, for film purposes; it just doesn’t connect as well as it should/could have.

Because of the way it was segmented, it lacked the natural ebb and flow of a typical plot. It wrapped up everything quite cleverly in the end, but since there was so much going on in the middle with no evident climax, it seemed to drag on forever, and in a nearly three-hour movie, that’s killer.

I know it’s probably how it’s written, but I have a hard time believing in a post-apocalyptic world that our language skills go to pot with it. I could hardly understand a word of what Tom Hanks was saying. The best way to describe the dialect would be crossing a four-year-old mind with Honey Boo Boo’s mom and a member of Duck Dynasty. Plus, it was just bizarre—I wasn’t a fan.

Can’t say that it’s worthy of any Oscar nods, but the acting was certainly something I haven’t seen in a while. You can’t talk about this film without mentioning the laundry list of actors and their even longer list of characters—at least four or five per person. A risky venture? Certainly. Unattainable? Not necessarily, and for the most part, they execute them with grace.

Tom Hanks made such a deal about this film in its promotional period (even “accidentally” saying a potty word on live television when reenacting one of his characters) and is revered as the main character, I suppose. However, all of his roles were downright eclipsed by the other phenomenal actors. Even with his Asian-looking prosthetics, Jim Sturgess—a personal favorite of mine anyway—was fit for all of his characters, nailing every accent and separate mannerisms to boot. But Jim Broadbent stole the show. He never fails to disappoint at anything he does, but he truly wowed me here, rolling in laughter even.

The music in this film was stunning—absolutely breathtaking and a true example of how a movie can be shaped through its power. It catches its title from a piece of music and key point in the movie, “The Cloud Atlas Sextet,” which comes into play several times in the plot. I went home immediately and bought it.

I was up and down in the duration of the film on what to rate it, and I finally agreed that four out of five chips would suffice—with a touch of leniency. While there were certainly things that should have been done differently to avoid confusion, I give it major props for having the balls to go after such a mammoth concept and actually not tank in the process, although it did step on its own feet at some points. It combines the two worlds in cinema that almost never make a legitimate connection—art house and mainstream—and expertly proves that a killer plot, great acting, thoughtful concepts and CGI can exist in the same film. Seriously, go see it for yourself.

Taylor Griffin

Managing Editor

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