Louise travels across time to bring us the definitive review of the Wachowski’s epic fantasy, Cloud Atlas…
The Low Down: Directed by the Wachowski brothe-the Wachowski siblings, and Tom Tykwer, this hugely ambitious adaptation of the allegedly unfilmable David Mitchell novel. A jaw-dropping concept, Cloud Atlas tells several simultaneous stories that star the same cast members in various guises.
Review: Taking plots that tackle every genre, from romance to sci-fi to slavery to comedy to pre-historic post-history (trust me, it’ll make sense), and telling the various love stories of a variety of different characters in each of these stories was a huge task, and an even huger one to sum up in a few sentences. Cloud Atlas follows the plight of 70s journo Halle Berry chasing up questionable nuclear programme, Ben Wishaw as a composer in a long-distance love affair working on his latest creation in the 1930s, Jim Broadbent as a modern-day struggling agent, a stricken and seaborne American lawyer (played by Jim Sturgess) returning to his wife and British home in the 1850s, Doona Bae escaping her suffocating life in a futuristic Korea, and finally Tom Hanks running about fighting blood-thirsty cannibals. Phew.
The Worst: Interweaving six stories across different time periods, even its lengthy three hour running time didn’t really feel like quite enough to satisfactorily bring all the arcs to conclusion. For the first half-hour or so, I sat there as a barrage of seemingly formless different scenes occurred in front of me. It takes a while to tap into the unlike-anything-you’ve-seen before narrative but once you’re there, the film is completely absorbing. I was less convinced by Doona Bae, but I’d put that down to the slightly sketched-in nature of her character arc(s) and the minimal roles she was given in most of the segments. The writers obviously had to pick which characters they were going to fill out and which ones were going to remain functional caricatures to stop the thing becoming a messy pulp. The film also suffers from star fatigue, almost inevitably-I spent many scenes squinting at the extras, trying to work out if it was that bloke who was thingy in that other bit or if he was just wearing the same fake nose.
The Best: Visually, the film was astonishing; the Wachowski’s pioneering special effects were restrained when required but let loose in a handful of truly breathtaking shots. Because of the sheer scale of the film, no time is left over for pointless scenes or the second-act lull. The cast was also great, the stand-out being, surprisingly, Tom Hanks, playing several very different but equally believable characters without ever lapsing into just being Tom Hanks. Jim Broadbent looked like he was having a whale of a time, providing much of the comic relief throughout his segments and generally just dabbing his oodles of languid talent over everything he popped up in. And, as a novelty throwaway, Hugo Weaving in drag!
Verdict: Overall, it’s difficult to rate Cloud Atlas. It’s an astounding piece of cinema, a work so ambitious and with so much to recommend to it that it’s tempting to overlook the slightly dodgy bits (I’m looking at you, Hugh Grant), but it’s not without it’s faults. Is it perfect? No. But the mostly sterling cast, tight direction and refusal to patronise are highly commendable. If you’re looking for the short answer to the question “Is Cloud Atlas worth seeing?”, then I say yes. It just might be worth bringing a compass.