The first words out of my mouth as the credits rolled were, “What a cluster!”
With six semi-independent story lines spread out over human history, Cloud Atlas is a mess which at the core is a tarted-up fortune cookie. A trio of directors, the Wachowski brothers behind the Matrix series (one of which is now a sister) and Tom Tykwer(best known for Run Lola Run), presided over this goulash and provided this official plot description: “An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.” I remember from film class that a plot that cannot be boiled down to a single sentence is in the words of my professor, “A goulash, a hodge-podge of whatever was in the kitchen.”
Pulp Fiction also famously experimented with both multiple plot narrative structure and non-linear plot delivery. However, where Pulp Fiction limited itself to three narratives Cloud Atlas is burdened with twice that number. Six intertwined stories is too much. There is not enough time for character development, for plot development… what we are left with is caricature and cliche.
The visuals are top notch and some of the plot lines almost demand a film of their own–notably the tragic homosexual love story in 1936 England/Scotland and the revolutionaries in Neo-Seoul of 2144. However, all of the plot lines were denuded of their power by their brevity, and strong visuals alone do not make this a good movie. Cloud Atlas spends so much time weaving multiple story lines together that it feels like the weaver lost track of the audience and just enjoyed the weaving. I suppose this was borne out by the audience as the film made back just a little over half of its production budget.
If you have 156 minutes to kill, give Cloud Atlas a try, but then again… maybe just give this one a pass.