Cloud Atlas: film review

cloud_atlasNormally with a review, I like to start with a potted summary of the film. Cloud Atlas though, is not an easy film reduce to a few pithy lines, but here goes…

The film follows a number of ‘souls’ through the ages in a series of linked vignettes. As the film progresses, we see how the characters souls evolve and how humanity will strive to overcome the threat of tyranny and oppression.

I watched Cloud Atlas with a large group of friends on a pretty small TV. That was shame because the special effects in the movie are really beautiful and deserve to be seen on a big screen. Watching with a group was interesting, we all liked the film, but many people commented afterwards that they hadn’t a clue what it was about and would have to watch it again.

cloud atlas

a bridge too far?

At three hours long, Cloud Atlas already demands a huge chunk of your time and for me, it wasn’t great enough for me to watch over just to fill in some of the blanks. As I mentioned in the summary, the film follows a number of souls as they are reincarnated through the ages. The narrative structure is very clever as we see how events in the past mirror (and influence) those in the future. Some may find the device of using the same actors in different eras to be distracting, but I found that the performances were so good that this aspect worked well.

Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, and Hugh Grant. That’s an impressive list of A-list talent and all deliver notable performances, especially Tom Hanks who demonstrates an excellent range.

The decision by the Wachowskis (who directed The Matrix movies) to alter the novel’s structure, which presented the story in a conventional chronological order does demand much of the audience. The  jumping back and forth in time element of the movie leads to a certain choppiness, but I commend the film-makers for not pandering to convention.

Honestly, this is the first film in ages where I have spent a while thinking about it afterwards. It is a little pretentious, especially towards the end, where I felt that the film-makers were being deliberately opaque whilst telling us that we were listening to something important. Essentially, the theme is that souls can evolve and maybe change over time, and having the same actors playing different characters in different time periods is how this is expressed on-screen.

cloud atlas2

Halle Berry, Halle Berry & Halle Berry
Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks & Tom Hanks

Cloud Atlas is a passionate and ambitious film, with a huge and sprawling scope. It does smack rather of a giant folly, some had claimed that the novel was un-filmable. Cloud Atlas does not pander to its audience, nor compromise in its story telling by dumbing down and for that, we should be grateful. However, I think that to fully appreciate the movie, one has to have read the book on which it is based (which I have not). For this reason alone, the film will lose some of its audience. It is worth noting that David Mitchell who wrote the book has praised the film in interviews, describing it as “magnificent”.

rating: 7/10

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