Cloud Atlas review

Review Ryan Lambie 22 Feb 2013 - 17:31

The sprawling, ambitious Cloud Atlas arrives in the UK. Here's our review of a flawed yet mesmerising film...

Why would anyone think that a book as lengthy and as complex as Cloud Atlas could be adapted into a workable movie? David Mitchell’s dense, epoch-spanning novel is perhaps an example of the what can be achieved in prose but not necessarily on a big screen: multiple characters, disparate time lines, and philosophical themes about death and the Dirk Gently-like interconnectedness of all things.

Attempting to summarise Cloud Atlas in a paragraph is nigh on impossible, with the opening half hour skipping along with the dizzying momentum of a haunted television - the channel keeps changing, and you can only guess what you'll end up seeing next.

The story begins in the far-flung future, with a campfire tale recounted by Tom Hanks, scowling beneath a considerable amount of old man makeup. From there, we’re introduced to Ben Whishaw’s well-spoken Robert Frobisher, a musician in 1930s England, who works as an amanuensis for a noted composer played by Jim Broadbent. Then there’s Halle Berry's reporter in 70s America, who’s investigating Hugh Grant’s sinister nuclear reactor magnate. Then we’re on a ship in the 19th century, then late 21st century Korea, then the 24th century again.

Cloud Atlas moves rapidly and almost seamlessly between these different moments in time, where the same actors play different characters in each scenario - the idea being that each character's actions has an indirect impact on the next. Jim Broadbent, who plays the 1930s composer, also appears as a publisher in the present day. Hugo Weaving, true to form, shows up in every epoch as an antagonist in different guises, whether it’s a ruthless contract killer in the 70s, an apologist for the slave trade in the 19th century, or most terrifyingly of all, a stern Nurse Noakes in the present.

So heavily made up are some of these actors, spotting them in each timeline turns into a sort of Where’s Wally mini-game. Look, there’s Ben Whishaw as a bearded shopkeeper. Here’s Hugh Grant as a vicious tattooed post-apocalyptic chieftain. And isn’t that Susan Sarandon as an old man with a robot eye? My God, I think it is.

Perhaps inevitably, some of these performances are better than others. Tom Hanks is good value as a conniving 19th century doctor with big teeth, but is rather out of his depth when asked to play a violent Irish novelist. Hugo Weaving makes a surprisingly good nurse, but the heavy facial prosthetics used to turn him into a late-21st-century Korean bureaucrat is rather distracting.

The result of all this dress-up - and filmmakers' considerable use of green screen effects - is a film that feels almost dreamlike in its unreality, like a philosophical Mighty Boosh. Casting different actors for each part, rather than recycling them, may have resulted in a more grounded-looking ensemble movie, like Terence Malick's The Thin Red Line, for example. But this clearly isn't the path the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer (who all gamely wrote, directed and produced) wanted to take; with its 'ripples through time' underlying theme, Cloud Atlas shifts madly from dark to light, from tear-jerking romance to abrupt bloodshed, from bleak drama to levity.

For some, the constant swing between different times and tones may prove too much, and this is perhaps why Cloud Atlas has polarised critical opinion so far. In attempting to be broadly humorous, thrilling and philosophical, the film finds itself in an odd middle ground, where pop-existential ponderings, Matrix slow-mo shoot-outs and Benny Hill-like moments of slapstick in an old folks' home are bizarrely intercut.

Depending on how cynical you're feeling, you could also argue that, with a three-hour duration, the film takes a long time to get across its feel-good messages about goodness, badness and the value of human life. But at the same time, there's never a moment where Cloud Atlas drags; the decision to constantly cut between stories (a technique handled differently from the novel) works extremely well, and even though some moments are many times better than others, the film sweeps along on its own batty momentum.

Against considerable odds, Tykwer and the Wachowskis have managed to wrestle this behemoth of modern writing into an entertaining movie. Sprawling, perplexing, sometimes beautiful but often kitsch, Cloud Atlas is a true oddity. It's flawed, but there's an urgency and vigour in its storytelling that is strangely beguiling. It's the closest thing we have to a 21st century Zardoz, and that's surely a good thing.

Cloud Atlas is out in the UK now.

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Fully agree with you on this. It's not perfect but its a wonderful attempt at something different from the usual Hollywood stuff we see. I also loved the hints at a post-apocalyptic world we see in some of the far future stuff. It isn't really explained why/how it all went to hell in a handbag, but the visual clues were quite haunting. Reminded me of stuff like the ending of the original Planet of the Apes.

Roll on the Cloud Atlas blu-ray in summer.

'Cloud Atlas' was/is my favorite film of 2012. (I live in the US.) Sure, there are flaws, but can't that be said of anything? IMO, the positives out-weigh the negatives considerably!
The editing is incredible and the score is brilliant!

Ok....I saw this weeks ago. once again stupid regional coding is causing damage. Are you telling me this is just getting to cinema in the UK now????

I am torn about what to think about this film. Parts of it are very good. But it makes no cohesive sense.

The parts with Jim Broadbent in the retirement home, feel like a BBC Drama. Then it goes all futaristic and a bit like the Matrix...then its back in the 60s or where ever its meant to be with another drama type section.

The bit with the fast food clones in the future and the revolution could have been a film in its own right. The same with the post apocalypse future setting.

I enjoyed the film, I hated the film, I was bored by the film, I had not a clue what was supposed to be going on , or who was who in the film!

That about sums it up. I can give it marks for trying but its off the WTF scale in places. I can honestly say its not something I will EVER watch again though. Maybe if you thought Inception was deep and clever then you will like this.

I am going to try and read the book, because no doubt huge sections of the book will be missing, and its got to make more sense and the plot must be easier to follow than the film was.

The best thing you can really say about it, is that some of the sections in it are good, and some are pants. It reminds me of those books that you get that collect short stories into one novel. You read it, and some of them are great and you wish they were full length books and not just short stories. Well this film is like that.

Sort of....

Er...

I am confused...I think I will go and lie down......

Cloud Atlas is awesome

I thought it was a great film, well, if you believe in reincarnation. Though, I was getting sore ass by the end of it..

Not only is it nice to have a big-budget film that's both original and refreshingly challenging, but also to not have to decide between 2-D or 3-D, 24fps or 48 fps... remember those days?

I think it says it all about the state of cinema today when 'Cloud Atlas' is released on smaller screens in your local multiplex (if at all) whilst the bigger screens are almost universally taken up with the worthless cinematic turd that is the newest 'Die Hard' film...

Yes your exactly right. Even though I was not that keen on Cloud Atlas. It all comes down to money. They know everyone is going to see Die Hard, no matter how crap it is, so it gets the most and biggest screens.

They know Cloud Atlas is a weird film that will appeal to a smaller audience. Especially if it got bad reviews and word of mouth in America.

I used to go and see weird offbeat films all the time when I was in my early twenties. I can remember going to see Fire in the Sky at a 9pm showing in the Metro Center one Friday night about 20 years ago. I was one of five people in there and it was a fairly large screen too.

It did not matter so much if the film was a bit weird or crap, because the ticket only cost £4. And it was £4 no matter when you wanted to see it, evenings, weekends etc. Fast forward to 2013 and its £15 a ticket if you want to go to the new Metro Center Cinema on a Friday or Saturday night for a big movie. Pushed up by crap 3d and so forth. Its just getting to be a joke. So I stay home with my big screen and Blurays.

I agree when you say it never drags - I've never seen a film like Cloud Atlas before. After watching it once, I had to see it again... not because I was confused, but because I wanted to understand the more subtle themes and spot all the links between stories that were only clear with retrospective.
I'd never read the book before seeing it, so I don't see where critics who say it's too complex are coming from. Like those who said Doctor Who Series 6 was too confusing, it's a matter of how much attention you're giving it. Cloud Atlas is an epic, touching and moving film.

Yes! Could not agree more about the score. I've been listening to it non-stop since watching the film.

I said it about The Fountain, and I'll say it about Cloud Atlas. Give me an ambitious mess, take a chance and not succeed. Give me a thousand of these over another Transformer movie, or something that feels like a computer algorithm was employed to do a 'successful' screenplay.

Personally I loved this film. But I also found I had to let go of trying to force it to make sense and just experience it.

My local cinema (which is a Cineworld) gets Die Hard 5 and Hansel & Gretel, but no Cloud Atlas. Pretty much sums up my apathy towards big multiplex chains.

I haven't seen it yet, but I do intent do and I have read the book, and I think most of these comments about the conflicting stories aren't the films fault but the book, which.... I kind of enjoyed? Each story is so hugely different from the last in terms everything, especially tone and so there are certain stories that you think are great and exciting and you love but then other ones when you're just skim-reading to get to the next section, and it will undoubtedly be the same for the film.

I watched this yesterday and loved it. I have got all the links between each story with the exception of the 1970's story to the present day story. Can anyone shed some light on this?

This connection was missed out of the film. In the book the publisher in the present day is reading a manuscript that has been sent to him called "Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery," which is of course the novel of the previous section. I guess they might have missed it out because it implied that the story was fictional, but they kept the part about the "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish" being a film, or at least being adapted into a film, so it doesn't really make sense to miss it out.

Perhaps we'll get to see it in a deleted scene on the Blu Ray.

Hope that helps.

I just saw the film in the UK at the weekend, and there's a scene where Jim Broadbent (as Timothy Cavendish) is reading a manuscript of the Luisa Rey storyline. It's very quick though, if I'd blinked I'd have missed it!

very twisted unpleasant long boring movie to my eyes !! when i saw the trailer i went crazy for it but the actual movie is exactly the same as trailer !!! very bad make up throughout the movie almost looks like plastic dolls .Alot of shots were incredible and it was good acting by all, tho it couldnt give the message straight forward.
only my opinion

This film is beyond doubt one of my top 5 films of all time. I think it will end up making a huge profit when released on DVD next couple of months. The depth of the storytelling is...there is just nothing like it ever before. It is near 3 hours and I never ever felt like it was long. The acting is superb and because Hollywood studios were too busy financing rubbish blockbusters the directors of this film had to get it independently financed. The two director brothers made an absolute mint for the studios with The Matrix series and the studio execs couldnt trust them with this groundbreaking piece in moviemaking. Shame on them, but maybe independently the directors could realise their vision rather than a popcorn version overseen by stupid studio execs.

It is on the same par as Avatar except Avatar lacked human emotions. Cloud Atlas has it all and when you put the two films side by side Cloud Atlas wins hands down. It will inspire a whole new breed of film directors who will hopefully start delving into REAL storytelling instead of treating their audiences like stupid people who cant grasp concepts on a par with Cloud Atlas.

If anything congradulations has to go to all involved who believed in bringing probably one of the greatest films ever made to our screens. This film will linger in the minds of generations to come. The Shawdank Redemption did nothing at the box office and yet it is considered a masterpiece. Cloud Atlas is a masterpiece and I will watch this film over and over again in the future when released on DVD.

I loved it from start to finish. I just cant put into words how great this film is.

ohmergerd, I can't believe someone else remembers Zardoz, which was strange enough without the substance I had taken during college when I saw this for the first time.

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