By Roger Thomas for the SNAP
CNHI News Service
Wednesday, November 21, 2012 —
Before I entered the theater I had heard that opinions about “Cloud Atlas” were very mixed. Many were disappointed. I did not know why because I do not read reviews of films until after I have seen them and made up my own mind. (If you choose to do this, you should stop reading now. I would, however, hope that you will save this review and read it after you see the film). So I went into the theater thinking I will probably be disappointed, but it will not be the first time.
“Cloud Atlas” clocks in at 172 minutes (that’s eight minutes shy of three hours). I am not sure how many minutes into the film I began to feel this way, but suddenly I realized, “I am glad this is three hours long. I do not want it to end.” It is epic. It is stunningly beautiful. Each of the different stories is incredibly engaging. All of the major characters are well-developed. There are countless moments of quotable dialogue. “Cloud Atlas” is like nothing I have seen in while. And it is one of the best films of the year.
The film, based on a novel by David Mitchell, tells six different stories that occur during different time periods. The oldest tale takes place in 1849 and the other five are set in different eras beyond the nineteenth century, the last in the distant future. The stories intersect in a variety of ways but ultimately stand alone as unique individual narratives. There are history, romance, comedy, action and crime stories. Each of the stories is told in little bits, all of them climaxing in the last hour of the film.
My only complaint about “Cloud Atlas,” and I write this with a smile, is that just when I was totally engrossed in one of the six stories, the filmmakers changed scenes on me. It is an amazing achievement that the writer/directors of “Atlas” could successfully make each and every one of the stories a captivating joy to behold. My hat is off to the Wachowski siblings who gave us the “Matrix” movies and Tom Tykwer who wrote and directed one of the best foreign films you have perhaps never seen, “Run Lola Run.” (Add that one to your Netflix Queue). These three wrote and directed the different pieces of the film which ultimately would become a nearly perfect cinema experience.
I am not sure that the Academy will reward “Cloud Atlas” with a Best Picture nomination. If I were a voting member, there is not doubt it would make my list of nominees. But either way, I cannot imagine that “Atlas” is not going to sweep the technical nominations: Art Direction, Cinematography, Costumes, Editing, Make-up, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and Visual Effects. I can think of one film which was nominated and went on to win awards in all eight of these categories: “Titanic.” “Cloud Atlas” is not having the box office success of “Titanic,” nor is it likely to sweep all these categories even if it is successful in gleaning nominations. The three that seem the most deserved would be Cinematography, Editing and Make-Up.
There is a great deal more that I could tell you about “Atlas”, but as always, it is better for you to discover those things in a darkened theater. I would offer two final thoughts. First, I saw “Cloud Atlas” in an Imax Theater and I would encourage everyone to see it in that venue. Second, Roger Ebert has written of the film: “Even as I was watching ‘Cloud Atlas’ the first time, I knew I would need to see it again. Now that I’ve seen it the second time, I know I’d like to see it a third time.”
Ebert gave “Atlas” four stars which is his highest rating.
I believe that “Cloud Atlas” will be one of those films that I watch over and over again through the years, and I think each time I will enjoy this grand achievement as if it were the first time.