I would like to start by apologising for the lengthy text of this review – if you have not seen Cloud Atlas, you only need to read about half, DO NOT read past the spoiler alert you will only ruin it for yourself. If you have seen this film I would suggest skipping straight the discussion of what the HELL was going on in Cloud Atlas!
Before going into the cinema the only thing I knew about Cloud Atlas was that a lot of characters are played by the same actors, and that it had something to do with parallel universes or time lines. I didn’t know what the story would be, and to be honest having seen it now I am still not sure I understand it. Before I talk about that though, lets take a spoiler free look at this film.
Cloud atlas takes us on a journey through 6 different stories, jumping back and forth through time/space. Starting in 1849 with slavery and exploration, 1936 sees a forbidden love affair between a scientist and a struggling composer in Britain, 1973 where a reporter is on the run in San Francisco, 2012 modern day with an old peoples home turned prison, 2144 a futuristic revolution in Korea and 2321, a gruesome post apocalyptic world. How do all these stories link? You would have to watch it to work that out but for me I didn’t think the stories linked strongly enough. The film also takes a very long time to make any of these connections and I found myself thinking – this is just a random series of events.
The characters in each story are played by the same actors, there is little confusion though as the make up and masks are quite obviously different for each role. Even to the point of distraction in some cases i.e. an old Hugh Grant looking like he was wearing a halloween mask, freaky. The cast though were brilliant. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry seemed to take the lead stories, but there were also great performances from Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Wishaw, Keith David, James D’Arcy and Susan Sarandon.
Tom Hanks probably had the hardest roles to play as they were all very different. I think the volume of characters meant that they were a little under developed. Although some of his characters I did not care for (he didn’t make a very convincing Irish gangster personally). Halle Berry also had a lot of roles to dip in and out of, but the range was not as diverse. My favourite character of hers was the reporter in San Francisco – she plays a feisty broad very well. (On a side note, why does she always look ready to cry? Watery eye syndrome!)
Jim Broadbent is always fantastic and this is proven in his performances here, the cowardly publisher and the crazy composer are two starkly different roles but both executed brilliantly by Broadbent. Hugo Weaving does an excellent evil vodoo spirit which reminded me of the Hitcher crossed with Old Greg from The Mighty Boosh, a little distracting. Also makes a pretty frightening woman!! (As does Ben Wishaw if you spot can spot it!)
It was good to see Hugh Grant in a villainous role – he makes a very convincing and very scary cannibal which was definitely a change from his normal role of chauvinistic lover boy. Wishaw played my favourite character of them all in his role as Ben Frobisher, the struggling composer who seeks out work with the famous Vyvyan Ayrs (Broadbent) whilst continuing a doomed love affair with scientist Rufus Sixsmith (D’Arcy). Their tale was a tragic one which really tugged at my heart strings!
Even with the many characters and story lines I did start to feel invested in the characters, it took quite a long time to get me interested if I am honest but the film is almost 3 hours long so it had to happen at some point. I still think 3 hours is too long for a film but hey its starting to become the norm so the cinemas had better install some comfier seats!
The main themes through Cloud Atlas are about love and revolution. Sticking it to the man! In their own way each story line covered these themes, if not sometimes loosely. And yes by the end of the film you do start to realise the connection between story lines. This film is a thinker, whilst watching it I thought, hmmm a little boring, and too sporadic – but when my friend and I left the cinema we started to talk about it and it became a little clearer. In fact I couldn’t stop thinking about the links, so much so it kept me up that night.
The cinematography was pretty good, there are some fantastic scenes in futuristic Korea as well as some fascinating ideas surrounding consumerism and slavery which will haunt you afterwards. The make up and costume were perhaps a little over done in places but I suppose necessary to distinguish between plots. Despite the rapidly changing story lines jumping from time line to time line the film is actually very easy to follow from that perspective. It is the links between them that are a little more subtle.
Over all Cloud Atlas was a fantastic piece of film if not slightly too ambitious – I would suggest waiting to see this sat on your sofa so that you can have breaks and possibly even talk to someone about it whilst watching. I did enjoy the story, and working out the connections between plot lines. But for me, a little too slow.
To really talk about this film though it is impossible to make it spoiler free, so SPOILER ALERT PEOPLE!! Stop reading if you haven’t watched this film please 🙂 I want to talk about what the HELL was going on?!
As I said before, I wasn’t sure I understood the film. It wasn’t clear at first whether the story lines were on a time line, in parallel universes or different eventualities. Thinking about it afterwards my friend and I realised it must have been a time line in the same universe, as Cavendish the publishers film that he wanted to produce was the film that Doona Bae’s character Sonmi watched, and where the line “I will not be subjected to criminal abuse” came from which pretty much started the revolution in futuristic Korea (or ‘Hyper China’ as I thought it was). Also Sonmi turned out to be the God which post apocalyptic tribes prayed to and asked for guidance. In the end, Tom Hanks’ Zachry points out the Earth so at that point I thought it must have all been in the same universe too.
Yep I get that now, but where does Vyvyan and Frobisher the composer come into this? What is their link to the revolution in the future? Jim Sturgess’ character Adam Ewing in the 19th century – I also can’t understand his link, other than declaring that he was going to help abolish slavery in the end… Actually his link could be Sonmi’s vision of meeting her lover Chang (played by Sturgess) in heaven as he opens the door and Doona Bae plays his loving wife, cleverly made up as a white 19th century woman. That can vaguely explain their link, but what about 70’s reporter Halle Berry uncovering dodgy dealings in the oil business?
Well if Hugh Grants character Lloyd Hooks the oil tycoon had accomplished his plan of having the nuclear reactor malfunction in order to secure his business in the oil industry, then perhaps this would have caused the devastating effects that lead Korea to take over America… hmm that doesn’t sound right. Maybe I am missing something in that story line?! Still, this has a strong link to the 1930’s story line, as Frobisher the composer’s lover is Rufus Sixsmith – the scientist who first alerts Berry to the nuclear story, until he is brutally murdered of course. Other than the themes of love and revolution that these two story lines possess, I cannot see the link to the main meat of the story. It could have been left out of Cloud Atlas perhaps to make it a little shorter? But that would have been a shame because I did enjoy these two plots, they could warrant their own film to be honest.
Something I still can’t quite get my head around was the reason for characters being played by the same actors. Are they related, are they reincarnated, are their souls connected, is it to do with destiny? Most of the characters play similar roles as if it is their souls that are reincarnated. For example Halle Berry plays the journalist in seek of knowledge and truth, just as her character Meronym does in the post apocalyptic future. Hugh Grant is a blood sucking, evil character in all of his roles, locking his own brother up in an old person’s home, being willing to kill thousands in a nuclear disaster to make money, and of course being the chief of a cannibalistic tribe. Also Jim Sturgess, his two main roles as Ewing and Chang are both romantic revolutionaries. Weaving is a human hating villain in all of his roles to some extent and Broadbent is always out for himself. BUT this theory doesn’t coincide with Hanks’ characters, he plays a murderous doctor, a romantic scientist, a simple townsman with a voodoo conscience, and an Irish hardman. I don’t see his spirit linking anywhere?
At some points in Cloud Atlas I didn’t think there was the need for some characters to be played by the same actors – if the point was to link the people in each journey, it got a little lost in the ridiculous. Especially with Weaving playing the ‘Trunchbull’ nurse, although this story line did provide some much needed comic relief. The same with Ben Wishaw playing Hugh Grant’s wife, why?
Over all though the film was very well done for such an ambitious story. I would like to watch it again in the comfort of my own home to see if it makes more sense the second time round. If you stuck around to read all of these rambling I applaud you sir/madam. If you have seen the film, perhaps you understood it better than I? For someone who’s aim is not to read into films too much, this has been an exception to that rule. You can’t not read into it, its the nature of the story 🙂
Tagged: Ben Wishaw, blog, cinema, Cloud Atlas, critic, Doona Bae, film, films, halle berry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, James D'Arcy, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Keith David, movie, movies, review, Susan Sarandon, Tom Hanks