Film Review: Cloud Atlas

Cloud AtlasAnother month, another unfilmable film. Last year, Ang Lee proved that the term ‘unfilmable’ was now somewhat obsolete after turning Yann Martel’s Life of Pi into a spectacular piece of filmmaking. Now we have Cloud Atlas, another book that many deemed impossible to transition from page to screen.

Cloud Atlas has one of the most convoluted plots you could imagine. In fact, it has six different plots being told simultaneously that span various locations and lifespans. The plots range from 19th century voyages on the high seas to 1970s San Fransisco nuclear energy politics to hundreds of years in the future with most of the global population wiped out. That doesn’t begin to scratch the surface but to go into more detail about the six plots would literally double the length of this review. Needless to say, the scope of Cloud Atlas is epic and requires every drop of your attention throughout its rather lengthy three hour run time.

The film flicks between the six stories reasonably often and it can initially be rather disorientating and overwhelming trying to keep track of what’s going on. That the primary actors (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Ben Wishaw, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Donna Bae, Hugh Grant, and others) play different roles in each story, all dressed and made up differently for each role, also adds to the initial confusion. However, this soon dispels and it becomes easier to follow the stories. In fact, that the film does change story so often actually keeps you more engaged.

There are various themes running throughout Cloud Atlas but the one that is most prescient is the connection of souls through different lifetimes, hence the decision to have the same actors play different roles. It is fascinating to see how actions in one story affect those in others. However, there are such huge ideas here and so many characters and plot lines to keep track of that it does feel as if the story and its ideas are simply too big for the film. Multiple viewings are almost mandatory to fully appreciate the various subtleties in each story and to see how they are linked together. Trying to piece everything together is a nigh on impossible task. It may well be sensible to simply abandon trying to work everything out, particularly on first viewing, and simply let it wash over you. Try and think too much about what you’re seeing and you’ll likely miss something important.

Each of the six stories is engaging in its own way and they vary wildly in tone. Post nuclear fallout cannibalistic tribes one minute and a group of pensioners organising an escape from a retirement home the next, Cloud Atlas certainly isn’t lacking variety. The visual effects are also outstanding, with Neo Seoul 2144 in particular looking stunning, although the make up and prosthetics used do vary in quality.

The performances are generally strong although some do get to express themselves a little more than others. Jim Broadbent and Halle Berry are rarely stretched although both Tom Hanks’ and Hugo Weaving’s characters are vastly different (the less said about Hanks’ Irish accent the better, however). Ben Wishaw is also excellent as bisexual composer Robert Frobisher who’s fated relationship with partner Robert Sixsmith is one of the most touching moments of the film.

Once the credits role on Cloud Atlas, it may well take a while for it all to sink in. There are times when the various stories’ connections are just a little too subtle, weakening the link between and, consequently, the effectiveness of the film as a whole. Directors Tom Tykwer and Andy and Lana Wachowski deserve great credit for attempting such a daunting task of bringing this to the screen and for the most part it’s an incredibly engaging piece of cinema. However, its themes and scale too often seem too grand for even a three hour film.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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51 thoughts on “Film Review: Cloud Atlas

  1. ckckred says:

    I’ve heard that some people really love this film and some people despise it. I don’t really like the Wachowskis’ work too much with the exception of The Matrix but I want to see what I think about it. Nice review.

  2. CMrok93 says:

    It’s a pretty long movie, but at least it’s always interesting to see where it goes, and especially where these actors go. Good review.

  3. vinnieh says:

    Great review, I need to see this as it seems to divide opinion.

  4. Hunter says:

    I’m still mad I missed this one. I saw Flight that weekend instead and didn’t like it all. The reason I skipped this one was because I couldn’t tell what the heck it was about from the trailer and didn’t really feel like shelling out ten bucks for a story I couldn’t follow. I feel like I should see this one because it is so “unfilmable” and just the fact that they made it happen is amazing even if it’s not perfect.

    • It’s virtually impossible to get a true feeling for what this is like from the trailer, it’s one that really just needs to be seen to really appreciate it. It’s a real technical achievement, in my opinion, making a film that is so complex that does work for the most part.

  5. At three hours, I’ll probably wait until it’s released on DVD, that way I won’t miss anything when I need a potty break! Great review mate!

  6. barronlouise says:

    It sure is overwhelming, I can’t watch this about 30mins, I just can’t, great review though πŸ™‚

  7. This is a really good review πŸ™‚ I can’t wait to see it! I have read the book & was amongst those who deemed it ‘unfilmable’ so i’m really interested to see how it’s done. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it so much !

    • Thank you! I have no idea how well it compares to the book but I imagine it cuts a hell of a lot out even with the film’s three hour run time. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts if and when you get round to seeing it.

  8. filmhipster says:

    I’m so happy you liked it. I enjoyed it as well and I’m looking forward to watching it again to pick up on those little subtleties I missed the first time.

  9. I read the book last year and loved it so much I couldn’t wait for the film….and I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed. Having read the book made it so much easier to watch. The book doesn’t jump around from story to story as much as the film but you are right this helps keep you engaged. I went with two people who hadn’t read the book and although I spent hour afterwards explaining it to them they both think they would need to see it again or read the book to understand it.

    Excellent review.

    • Thank you πŸ™‚

      I’m very glad it did the book justice for you. I can imagine reading it would really help to properly understand how everything connects together. I definitely think I’ll need to see it again to fully appreciate it.

  10. keith7198 says:

    Solid review! I’m really not a fan of this film and I’m beginning to think I’m the only one LOL. I found it to be a much lesser film than it thinks it is. Another problem I had was that some of the stories were weak which basically meant there were moments in the picture where I was just waiting for the next story. I also felt it was sometimes silly and sometime heavy-handed to the point that I was just ready for it to be over!

    • Nah you’re not the only one at all mate, I’ve seen quite a few people who weren’t very taken with it, it’s certainly been dividing people. The tones of the story were very different and the old people’s home story did feel a little jarring. I thought the stories were all pretty interesting but I do agree that some were more engaging than others.

  11. Its a decent movie. BUt as much credit as they deserve for their ambitious attempt, I have to feel that they fell short. Nothing conects well enough, to me, to be worth the strenuous effort it takes to follow it all through. 😦

    • Valid points Fogs. I also thought the connections were a little weak and the stories almost felt like separate shorts stories. I think it could well be because a lot of stuff will have needed to be cut from the book which is why I said I thought it was probably too big a story for the film. Despite that, I did really enjoy it.

  12. mistylayne says:

    I desperately wanted to see this in the theatre but didn’t get a chance. Very excited to see how it plays out. πŸ™‚

  13. Patricia T says:

    Good review, but I really didn’t like this film. At all. Even though it was nice to see Hugo Weaving in drag (a la Priscilla Queen of the Desert), I couldn’t connect to any of the characters. Plus, the use of yellowface kinda irked me as well.

    • I hadn’t really thought of that but I can understand why that might annoy. I can totally appreciate why some people don’t like this film, it’s very divisive. It’s by no means perfect but I thought it was impressively put together considering the mammoth task at hand.

  14. I’m not a huge fan of the Wachowskis, but I’m excited to rent this one just to see how well they can pull it off. Great review.

  15. Mark Walker says:

    Fine review sir! Again, we agree on many similar points. It may have it’s critics but I absolutey loved it.

    • Thanks Mark! I thought it did have its flaws but I still really enjoyed it and I think some of the criticisms are quite unfair. The fact that the Wachowskis and Tykwer managed to make such a good film from such a complicated book is quite an achievement.

  16. nediunedited says:

    So glad you were able to appreciate it–as you know I am on the love camp–I loved the scope and the ambition. For me, it was very successful–yes, there were some weak areas–but overall, it was engaging and wonderfully refreshing.

    In a world where films are becoming less and less creative and original, Cloud Atlas is ahead of its time and a welcome change of pace. And yes, it becomes better with repeated viewings…

    Great review! πŸ™‚

    • Thank you! I’m looking forward to seeing it again actually. I do think it’ll be one of those films I appreciate more the second time. I thought it was a really original film, I can’t think of too much else like it and certainly not around at the moment, which is good to see.

  17. Popcorn Nights says:

    Nice review Chris. I think we agree on a lot of it. It has really stayed with me since I saw it so I must give it a second viewing at some point, as I think it will only get better and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is viewed one day as a classic by a lot of people. Still, it has its flaws as you point out! Hanks’ accent…gah.

  18. Great write up. Afraid it may be too late for me to catch this one on the big screen. Very intrigued by the concept though!

  19. Nostra says:

    Wow, you liked this a whole lot more than I did. I didn’t like some of the stories and the message of that everything is connected was a bit obvious

    • It was an obvious message but it was the message the film was trying to convey so I didn’t have any problem wit it. It’s really split opinion this one and I can fully appreciate why people didn’t like it so much but I thought it was pretty good. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but I did enjoy it.

  20. conordcfc says:

    Great review, nice to see you enjoyed the movie as much as me! Take a look at my review if you have the time πŸ™‚

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