Mark Kermode recently blogged about reappraising Cloud Atlas, the Wachowski’s and Tom Tykwer epic 2012 film which was a commercial flop and polarised critics. It was a film he initially disliked but applauded for its audaciousness. Upon re revision he still felt it was a failure but found many more qualities to enjoy in it. On that note, here is my review of the ‘unfilmable’ David Mitchell novel which was written immediately after first viewing.
Forsake of context, I have not read past the first chapter of the book (although I have read his excellent novel number9dream – which could make for a terrific film in its self.)
Here we go.
Cloud atlas compromises of 6 seemingly individual stories set in very different time zones. Each story is different in tone and plot – ranging from crime mystery, apocalyptic futures and even a comical tale involving a man imprisoned in a nursing home. The tales are connected through the ‘souls’ of the various characters, which are reincarnated between the 6 stories, and how they connect and change in each era due to their actions in the previous. This is further emphasized by the use of the same actors in each section (in tremendous heavy make up – to the point of being unrecognizable). To witness the knock on effects of their previous lives in the interweaving segments is very rewarding, it is a brilliant idea and the extreme time span covered allows the view to witness character developments not usually found in the multiplex. To complement the terrific plot, the film is wonderfully shot and is very visually arresting – the future scenes are extremely imaginative (this is the Wachowksi’s) and put the likes of Tron to shame, whilst the past segments utilise gloriously vibrant colour which is a pure pleasure to watch. The costumes are fantastic too. However everything has an unrealistic sheen which kind of adds quite well to the out of the ordinary premise but also makes it difficult to suspend ones disbelief – especially with the level of prosthetic make up – and truly engage with the characters. The actors do deliver with some powerhouse performances, from Tom Hanks and Hugo Weaving particular. The music is also fantastic and the main score sounds like it could pass for a lost classic as it is portrayed in the film. Each of the stories are interesting small tales that would not be worthy of a film and you sense that it is all building for a big pay off at the end when they all intertwine (which does deliver). However the film has many failings, I feel like the main one is that it is gunning for an epic statement. So many lines explicitly refer to how connected they are, it drowns out some of the subtleties present and really spells things out for the viewer. You could skip to any scene and pick out a line worth of a trailer tag line. It overbears the stories too much and leaves little room for plot (which is surprisingly thin in each individual story). It is also edited with all the stories mixed up which can be disorientating and distracting but also provides some good counterpoints between the scenes. This is in large contrast to the book, wear they are separate and each protagonist is a observing the previous story. I also found some of the speech muffled and hard to hear – that could just be me though.
It is worth noting that half was filmed by one director Tom Tyker, the other by the Wachowski’s – working complete separate from one another. A very unusual and interesting concept and it is surprising how well the film ties together,
This is an enjoyable this film despite its obvious failings – which are quite clear. There is plenty to like however I’m not sure if the big emotion pay off is worth the 3 hour run time. It is hardly a classic but I could see some cult following occurring as it is worth seeing and more interesting than alot of films out at the minute. Also worth noting the array of English talent and the fact it is the most daring film Tom Hanks has been involved in for a long while (take note Larry Crowne). You may think that my review has heaped a lot of praise on this film only to give a middling final verdict, and the reason for this is the sheer audacious nature of the film, what it is attempting to do and the risks and boundaries it is trying to push. It has to be commended for not settling for the Michael Bay level of blockbuster, which seems to be the acceptable standard now, and blowing a huge budget on such a complex, challenging premise even if not ultimately reaching its goal.
All in all, I think you would like it.