Movie Review: ‘Cloud Atlas’ shoots for the moon but misses

Aliza Weinberger, Columnist

There is no simple way to summarize “Cloud Atlas.” At an almost three-hour run time and with six barely-connected separate stories, it would take the length of a normal feature film to explain the plot of this one patchwork movie. But to put it in the simplest terms: “Cloud Atlas” is an overblown cliche-filled epic with a lot of flash and no real substance.

In an attempt at synopsis, I’ll say that “Cloud Atlas,” based on the novel by David Mitchell, tells six stories that span centuries. Each, in some way, examines how individuals can change one another’s lives. The first story is of a dying man who, on his way home from the Pacific Islands to San Francisco  in the 1800s, learns about acceptance as he saves the life of a runaway slave. The second, set in the 1930s, is the story of a young composer who is working for an aging mentor and, as he writes to his lover, is attempting to make something of himself by composing an epic symphony. The third centers on a journalist in the 1970s who uncovers a terrible plot at a nuclear plant. The fourth, set in the present, is about a publisher who, while on the run from his debts, is placed prematurely in a prison-like retirement home and tries to escape. The fifth is set in the future and is a tale of an oppressed clone worker who gets involved in a revolutionary scheme. The sixth and final story is set in a far post-apocalyptic future, where two very different sets of people join to try and find salvation. The stories weave together throughout the film, and the same set of actors appears in each story. These actors include Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Susan Sarandon and Northwestern parent Tom Hanks.

Sound confusing? It is. Although the overall message of the film is simple (be kind to others, and love is transcendent), the mode of storytelling is meandering and bewildering. Each story is based on fairly trite tropes, which are cobbled together into one far-too-long film. The acting is great, as can be assumed from the A-list cast, but the small amount of time spent with each character and the transient nature of their stories do not allow the audience to make any real connections. And though the three directors, siblings Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, deserve credit for the beauty and visual scope of the film, as the screenwriters they are certainly at fault for the overall lackluster script.

The worst part about the film is how it deals with race. It has come under fire for its use of white actors, and oddly enough one black actor, portraying Asian characters in a story where only one main actor is actually Asian. And although this has not garnered much controversy, that Asian actress is made to seem Caucasian at another moment in the film. While the point was to show the connectedness of all mankind, it only served to distract the viewers and make them uncomfortable.

Overall, “Cloud Atlas” is a unique and pretty film, but in the end it tries too hard and goes too far.