You know, ensemble movies that tell different stories at the same time, stories which take place at different times, in different places, with different characters, but that are interrelated in one way or another, whether directly or indirectly. “Magnolia”, for one, is among my very favorite films of all time and for a while during “Cloud Atlas”, I was holding out hope that this was that kind of film, namely a symphony of human drama where the various stories complement or play against each other in fascinating ways, building up to a series of moments of intense emotion where everything suddenly comes together…
But while that may have been the intention of Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer and Andy Wachowski, they failed to achieve it, in my opinion anyway. As the sextet of tales unfold, multiple layers of philosophical, existential and metaphysical meaning come to the surface and it’s all quite interesting, but it often seems like we’re told about these things instead of being made to feel them.
More importantly, when taken at face value, each of the stories isn’t that involving and I personally didn’t fully connect with any of the characters. For all those reasons, after spending about half the running time invested in making sense of things, holding out hope that with enough patience and trust in the filmmakers, I’d be rewarded with an amazing payoff, I started losing interest and fearing that it wasn’t really worth the effort.
That being said, both before and after that feeling of disappointment sunk in, I got to enjoy parts of “Cloud Atlas”, which can be visually stunning quite often, notably when it deals with the more overtly fantastic sci-fi elements. There are also some truly gripping sequences here and there, and the way that the leads in every of the six stories are played by the same group of actors (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Doona Bae, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, Hugo Weaving, James D’Arcy, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, etc.), sometimes hiding under elaborate makeup effects, is rather impressive.
But while I was never bored per se, I wasn’t consistently stimulated either intellectually, emotionally or aesthetically. As others have pointed out, Darren Aronofsky achieved a lot more with a lot less in “The Fountain”.