Cloud Atlas made its big debut at the Toronto International Film Festival to a rousing chorus of "Hell yes!" and "What the hell was that?"
The audience is sharply divided on the adaptation of David Mitchell's acclaimed novel, directed by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis. Some people walked out feeling deeply moved, while others couldn't stand the cheesy New Agism. But the crowd was unanimous on one thing: Everyone respected this movie's soaring ambition. Here's our round-up of early Cloud Atlas reviews.
IndieWire's Kevin Jagernauth calls the film "disappointingly unimaginative" and a general mess. He blames a manipulative score and an underused cast, rather than the obvious stumbling blocks we all expected this movie to trip over.
The first thing that should be noted however, is that of all the elements that were likely to upend the picture, the stunt approach to casting actually works quite well. The thespians all seamlessly blend into their roles, and none of the choices are particularly jarring or take away from the drama on screen. And when the parts do draw laughs, it's usually intentional (Tom Hanks as a bruising Ray Winstone-ish author is particularly funny) and Hugh Grant acquits himself well in a handful of atypical, villain-esque parts. But it's just too bad these players are given nothing better to do than feature in a handful of rather undercooked genre excursions that feel like they're from five or six different movies.
Scott Tobias at The Onion: AV Club says the New Age spirituality in the flick is "total bunk." And sums up the movie's narrative adaptation of the book as such:
"How in the world could Cloud Atlas work as a movie?" has been the rhetorical question surrounding Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis' adaptation of David Mitchell's novel, which stacked six different timelines in a nesting-doll structure that unfolded in chronology for the first half and reverse chronology for the second. The answer is that the filmmakers have obliterated the structure altogether — a radical ploy in itself, given that it's the first thing anyone mentions about the book — and instead compressed the timelines into one long montage sequence, a symphony of artistry and tackiness. It's like a Big Gulp version of Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain, but much bigger and broader in scope, and with stories that disrupt each other [as] often as they syncopate.
But Noel Murray (also from The AV Club) was infinitely less harsh on the picture. And praised the film's boldness (something Tobias also mentioned but was less moved by):
I really don't want to discount how boldly and effectively constructed this movie is. It's like a two-hour-and-forty-minute version of the last half of Inception, keeping multiple plates spinning and reaching strong crescendos by cross-cutting action sequences between timelines. And yet it feels very much like one big story, and not just a bunch of stuff that happens, chopped together randomly.
Bad Ass Digest's Devin Faraci also applauded the boldness of Cloud Atlas. As a matter of fact "bold" is easily the most common word used in all of these early reviews for the film. Whether they liked it or not, there is a consensus of boldness. Faraci explains:
The word I would use for this movie is audacious. This is the boldest sort of filmmaking, and Cloud Atlas is a movie that throws every single thing out on screen and gives 200% effort. That can make the moments that fail feel like bodyblows, but it also makes the moments that work — and there are way more of those — transcendent.
Another critic who celebrates the film's brave vision is Matt Patches of Hollywood.com:
[A] majority of the TIFF audience walked away admitting that the pure ambition was present on screen, an attempt to use every element of moviemaking in an effort to tell a sweeping story about humanity. Like last year's Oscar-nominated Tree of Life, Cloud Atlas aims to pose big questions, albeit with a larger scale than the 2011 indie. A slower moment or two may have helped The Wachowskis and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord, but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year, there won't be a bigger movie than Cloud Atlas.
Another positive review comes from Drew McWeeny from Hitfix, who pegged Cloud Atlas as "soulful."
In the end, "Cloud Atlas" is a film that dares to imagine something beyond what is typically done in big-budget filmmaking, dense and daring, and as with "Speed Racer," I'm sure some people will be thrown by the basic cinema vocabulary on display. Nothing is spoon-fed to you, and I walked out of my screening almost drunk on the potential of movie storytelling and the idea that there are plenty of frontiers left for us to explore.
Jordan Hoffman of Film.com did not enjoy they overly important, yet incredibly boring moral message, saying the flick "starts out absolutely brilliantly, then segues into a pretentious slog." However, at least he enjoyed the future world of face tattoos in Hawaii.
It's the last segment, though, that's most creative, offering some of the niftiest sci-fi since "Battlestar Galactica." Tom Hanks lives with a primitive tribe speaking a blended patois that is 100 times cooler than Na'vi. He is visited by a way advanced science officer (or something) played by Halle Berry and the two climb a big rock searching for thematic closure.
Henry Barnes at The Guardian sums up a lot of these opinions pretty simply:
"Tom Hanks sports a variety of noses and Hugh Grant gives us his best body-painted cannibal in this wildly over-reaching and not entirely unsuccessful adaptation of the David Mitchell novel."
Thankfully very few people seemed to have a problem with the actors playing multiple roles throughout time. Well everyone except Geoff Chapman at IGN.
Having the same actors play multiple roles in the movie was a bad idea. It's not only confusing to keep track of who's who (you may find yourself relying on dress code for a quick reference as the film progresses) but the makeup, especially the makeup used to give the illusion of ethnicity, just does not work that well. Faces just look weird. We've been conditioned to understand that a epicanthal fold on the eyes is an Asian facial feature, for example, so seeing an Asian actor like Xun Zhou play Caucasian is perceptibly wrong.
So there you have it. Seems like you're either going to love or truly hate this movie, which should leave you with some excellent bar arguments post screening. On that note, we leave you with this image of Hugh Grant dressed up as a cannibal.
Cloud Atlaswill be released into theaters on October 26, 2012.