Cloud Atlas – Review (Spoiler Free)

Cloud Atlas PosterAs much as it loses most of its potential meaning and power as it goes along, Cloud Atlas is still a brave and interesting bit of filmmaking.

You have to admire the boldness of this film; it takes an ‘unfilmable’ novel, fills it’s cast list with names such as Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Ben Whishaw, Susan Sarandon, and Jim Broadbent, has them all playing multiple characters of differing genders across space and time, and then tries to explore themes as high reaching as the meaning of life. It’s no surprise really that it falls a bit short.  And yet it’s how close it comes to achieving it’s aims which makes this film really interesting.

Considering the film had three directors (the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer) it really shouldn’t  come across as cohesively as it ends up doing – and that’s regardless of the fact that it also deals with multiple stories, characters, and time periods. It had me impressed for a long time at just how unified it felt, that was until the third act where it became apparent that there really wasn’t anything holding this film up. That it had focused so much attention upon it’s complex presentation, that it had forgotten to actually add depth. The novel I have been told investigates the process of reading, which makes sense because I felt whilst watching the film that it may be trying to be self-reflective at times, but unfortunately it doesn’t manage it except in a few, half formed moments. If that had been developed the we could well have had a better film on our hands, but as it is it’s just a fairly impressively woven together tale that ultimately carries little significance.

Despite all of that negativity, there are a couple of performances collected here that are worthy of note. Tom Hanks does pretty well at surprising us with some very varied roles and he is a lot of fun to watch across the different storylines. But it’s Ben Whishaw who really delivers, and in fact puts several of the other cast members to shame. He’s easily an actor to watch over the next few years or so, which makes it a shame that such talent and promise amounts to relatively little here. It’s a good looking, and often entertaining film, so it’s probably worth checking out if it interests you, but it’s a long way away from being the future classic it could have been.

Summary:

What is the film’s greatest strength?
The bravery and sheer audacity of its approach and what it tries to achieve.

Its greatest weakness?
The way it overreaches and ends up feeling hollow and unfulfilled.

Would I see it again?
Someone might be able to talk me into it as a second viewing may well be quite rewarding, but I’m in no rush.

Thank you for reading, leave your thoughts in the comment box below!

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32 comments

  1. I really don’t think it loses any power or meaning as it progresses. It’s a masterpiece of a film in both scale, ambition, and story, and left me absolutely floored. I was so upset I missed it in theaters (you blinked and it was gone). But I do agree that Ben Whishaw is the ‘hero’ of the film. Cannot wait to see more of him.

    1. Hey Nick,
      I thought I might be going against some people on this one! It certainly would have been pretty amazing to see this in the cinema I agree with you there.
      I can also agree with you that in terms of scale and ambition this is one hell of a film, it’s the story which didn’t quite work for me. It just felt a little underwhelming considering the scale of the piece.

  2. theipc · · Reply

    I actually can’t wait to see this. Missed it in the theaters and the wife never wanted to watch it at home. I know you read what I put out so it could be surprising that I want to watch this and give it a good think. Some times I do, but it has to be just right : )

    Nice work!

    1. Thanks!

      It certainly is pretty different to what I’m used to you writing/seeing! I hope you enjoy it, there are a lot of impressive elements to this one – even if doesn’t quite properly come together for me.

      Shame about your wife not wanting to see it, does that mean there won’t be a post coming out about this one once you’ve seen it?

      1. theipc · · Reply

        If i watch it, I’ll post about it – it just won’t be one with the wife : )

        1. Yeah that makes sense! 😀

  3. Good review Rumsey. It was a very long movie, but I really enjoyed it nonetheless. It’s also one of the very rare long movies, that I couldn’t see getting cut down. Just wouldn’t work since all stories work so well together.

    1. Thanks Dan, I agree that it would be pretty tough to try and cut this one down due to how everything is linked and connected with each other! The length of time didn’t both me really, I guess I got the feeling that this film was setting out to be fairly epic before it started, and so a long running time seemed to be fitting, and then as you said whilst watching it it became apparent that it would be hard to cut it down.

  4. Great review, I didn’t know it had 3 directors. When I first saw the trailers the scope of the story and visuals, caught my attention but the less than stellar reviews kept me away from this movie. Now that it’s out on Home video for a while now, I might give it a go but with lower expectations.

    1. Cheers! I definitely think it’s worth a go if it caught your attention. There’s quite a lot that’s impressive – the visuals for example, and judging by some of the comments on here it’s clear that a fair amount of people thought quite a lot more of the film than I did!

  5. I was a big fan of this one, man. It’s obviously ambitious and for the most part, I felt it achieved its ambition. Quite unlike any movie I’ve seen for a while so for that reason alone I was thoroughly impressed.

    1. Ah, I wish I was a big fan of it too because in many ways it’s clearly impressive. It just didn’t quite click with me unfortunately. I completely agree with you about it being unlike any other movie that I’ve seen recently – that scored it several points in its favour from me too.

  6. Nice review mate. I thought there was an awful lot to like about this. It was so epic in scale and such a huge undertaking that I thought they did pretty well. It was long but I thought the fact that it skipped from one story to the next pretty quickly helped to keep your attention.

    1. Thank you, it really impressed me at first and I agree that it did pretty well considering what it was trying to achieve. But, as I realised the film was nearing its end I felt disappointed because I expected the film to do more with what it had presented to us – it almost felt like it had set up this crazy, very intriguing world, but then just left it at that with only hints of a deeper purpose.

  7. I really want to see this because I LOVED the book.

    1. I do kind of want to chase the book up after now seeing the film. I suspect that the film benefits from having previously read the book to be honest. I hope you like it when you get to see it!

  8. Great review James! I totally agree w/ your first statement… You have to admire the boldness of this film, and I think for the most part they succeeded as I found it to be entertaining and quite thought provoking. Some of the segments work better than others, for example Hanks and Berry’s accents are utterly incomprehensible, but I like the segment in Neo Seoul. It’s interesting to see all those actors playing multiple characters too.

    1. Thanks Ruth! Yeah, it would be quite fun to re-watch the movie after having seen who played who in the credits. I couldn’t believe that the evil tribal man was Hugh Grant!

      1. I kind of recognized Grant under all that makeup, I dunno I think he has a pretty distinct facial features, ahah. Did you recognize Hugo Weaving as the female nurse?

        1. I guess so, I just never expected to see him in a role like that!
          Yeah I did recognise him! That was a really fun one. Somebody I was with didn’t recognise Tom Hanks as the thug/writer – I didn’t think he was too hard really, but it was fun to see him like that!

          1. Really?? Hanks has a distinct look (high forehead) AND voice so I knew it was him right away. The most jarring one for me is Jim Sturgess as a Korean! But I really like the character and story, though the nudity is so totally unnecessary.

          2. Yeah I didn’t think it was hard to spot him either! That one was pretty jarring!!
            I don’t remember having an issue with the nudity – was there that much?

  9. Oh yeah, Ben Whishaw killed it! His whole storyline was the most affecting. I love this movie to pieces. I can see its flaws and its overreaching, but it’s just so beautiful.

    1. I need to see more of Whishaw’s performances – I’m only beginning to realise just what a talent he is!
      I can certainly understand why you, and so many other people, find this one beautiful – unfortunately there was just a slight disconnect for me.

  10. I’ll have to see this after reading your review, looks like a really ambitious movie.

    1. Oh it certainly is that! I hope you like it, there’s a lot that’s impressive in this one.

  11. Good review. Still really need to check this one out as I read the book, some of parts of which I liked much more than others… Definitely a hard one to adapt!

    1. Thank you, I can imagine that it would be very hard to adapt such a book. Would you recommend it then?

      1. Hmm… Hard to say. It wasn’t my favorite book of the past several years. I didn’t really like any of the stories that much EXCEPT for the middle (futuristic) one which I thought was absolutely fantastic! Overall I think the concept was probably just a little over my Young-Adult-reading head. 🙂 You seem a lot smarter than I am so you may like it. Hard to know without seeing the movie, though, whether I’d also recommend the book. I’m sure they’ve had to leave a lot out so it’s probably worth the read if you loved the movie…

        1. I liked the futuristic one in the film – so that bodes well! It’s interesting though that you say the middle story, are they not interwoven in the novel?

          Oh I’m sure that’s not true! But thanks anyway 🙂 I didn’t fall in love with the film, but it has made me significantly intrigued that I may give the book a go!

          1. Oops – I may have spoiled the book a little! The stories aren’t exactly interwoven. Kind of. Hard to explain. Obviously the movie has done it in a slightly different way so now I’m interested in seeing how they put the stories all together in the movie. I’d probably recommend this book before Perks as it’s much more complex…

          2. Oh, well don’t worry about it! It sounds intriguing!
            OK, it’ll be a while before I get to either of them but I’ll be sure to put Cloud Atlas higher in my ‘to read’ pile :p

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