Review: Cloud Atlas

CloudAtlasStarring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, Hugo Weaving

Directed by Lana Wachowski, Tom Twyker, Andy Wachowski

Released: 22 February 2013 (UK)

Across time and space, a set of disparate individuals are somehow connected, despite their vastly different environments, life experiences and fates…

Based upon the supposedly unfilmable novel by David Mitchell, the film of Cloud Atlas attempts—not entirely sucessfully—to translate what was a uniquely literary experience into a cinematic one. Mitchell’s novel is a literary conceit, structured in a way that a film simply cannot be and adopting stylistic and generic flourishes that could have been adapted, but that the filmmakers involved here barely attempted to come to terms with.

This is a film likely to baffle anyone who has not read the book, as it fails to stand alone as a movie, despite the intentions of the directors. It certainly looks good, and the various historical time periods and future environments are expertly and often beautifully rendered. However, while striving to reach an emotional crescendo, the drama somehow falls flat.

Part of the problem is the gambit of casting the same actors as up to six characters each, crossing ethnic and gender boundaries. In another film this might have been a great gimmick, but in a movie that aspires to some kind of deep profundity, this viewer I’m afraid spent an inordinate amount of time giggling at the fake noses and cauliflower ears applied to thesps such as Hugh Grant and Tom Hanks. They simply get in the way of the acting, and while I’m sure the cast and crew had great fun making the movie, they probably had a better time than the audience will have watching it.

Mitchell’s original stories pastiche various generic forms and take on various authorial voices, from the epistolary novel through 1970s-set film noir to far future debased form of vernacular English. The film fails utterly to capture these, and it would have been possible to ape the generic forms at least: Ben Wishaw’s voice over substitutes for letters, but Halle Berry’s 1970s-set thriller has no generic signifiers whatever, while the Jim Broadbent sequence is crying out to be shot as a 1980s sitcom. It is a missed opportunity that these elements were not pushed much further than they have been: the result is a film that plays safe with its look, content with ‘generic blockbuster’ as its default position.

Some critics thinks that Cloud Atlas will reveal hidden depths on repeated viewings, however for most people sitting through the almost three hour sprawling narrative(s), once will be more than enough.

Verdict: Ambitious and good looking, Cloud Atlas is nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is. 6/10

Brian J. Robb

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