I have found there to be two types of film critics in all of my years reading and watching how film criticism has evolved for the past 13 years or so. There are those who prefer to remain always the objective observer, studying whether the film “works” or not. Occasionally, a film will break through that objectivity and move them greatly, much to their surprise. But another kind of critic, perhaps the modern day blogger, affords themselves the opportunity to simply let go, even if it means going against the status quo, because they are more fan than critic. Roger Ebert is neither of these, though he is closer to the former than the latter. He isn’t someone who allows him emotions to get in the way of his analysis, and yet, he doesn’t dismiss a film that has that ability.
On the other side of the spectrum are many a good bad review of Cloud Atlas. There are plenty of those. I am not sure of what use they are to you other than to tell you not to buy a ticket to the movie. At any rate, there are three reviews you should definitely read before you see it. One is by Roger Ebert, one by Owen Gleiberman at EW and the other, AO Scott from the NY Times. It is also worth reading the debate between Lisa Schwarzbaum and B. Ruby Rich who toss the ball back and forth.
Ebert’s review describes the movie I saw. If you go in looking for it to make sense you will have a hard time with it. If you trust the storytellers are taking you somewhere worthwhile it will work its magic on you. But you have to wait about 45 minutes on your first viewing. My second viewing was a deeper, richer experience. I got more what it was about. But I cried both times. I feel like this film and Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master are two opposing declarations of the human experience as I’ve come to know it. You could probably add in Life of Pi, I suppose, though it is less difficult to understand. The Master is uniquely grounded on the planet earth. It is a story about a specific culture. Cloud Atlas is more cosmic, less grounded. Both drill through our collective core. Gobbledygook? Perhaps. I like Ebert’s review which says, don’t even bother trying to understand it.