Film Review: Cloud Atlas

There are some films in life that you cannot quite remember whether you like them or not, whether they are actually any good. They are a name. Nothing more. It’s that weird phenomenon in that, we can name the film and the actors who are in it, but try and remember the plot, try to explain the film: positively or negatively and everything falls apart. For me, Cloud Atlas is one of those films.

It was on a list of films to watch based upon the recommendations and “Review” section of Empire Magazine, and while I hadn’t caught up with it when it was in the cinema, I knew that it starred Tom Hanks and Halle Berry but after that I was at a loss. I didn’t really know what it was about and my entire decision to watch it was based one magazine who have been a bit hit and miss recently; I couldn’t even remember what the oracle – Dr Kermode – thought about it.

Now, for me at least, if I’m watching a film at home I like to have dinner and then settle down on the sofa, curtains drawn, bag of popcorn and press play, before retiring to bed, at a sensible time. However, the running time of Cloud Atlas is so vast that this became a bit of logistical nightmare, it was either eat very early or have a late night. Both breaks from my normal routine, but the slightly late night seemed the lesser of the two evils. So to speak.

And so going into this film, everything seemed to be weighed against me but I believe firmly in giving any film a chance, after all some of the best films I have seen have been the unexpected gems that go against the grain. A small independent film you weren’t expecting much from that touches you in a way you didn’t expect. The Hollywood blockbuster panned by the critics only to leave you in cheesy paradise. You get the idea. What I found with Cloud Atlas though is that there is just such a mix of emotions, or thoughts or ideas relating to how I have ended up feeling that I don’t really know where to beginning trying to comprehend my thoughts on it.

The first thing that really hits you is the level of complexity to it. There are 6 layers, 6 independent stories each from a timeline that feed into the others. The tag line to the film was “Everything Is Connected” and the underlying foundation to this film is that the past bleeds through into future. That the actions we take, the fundamental reasons for the decisions we make are, essentially, just a repeated loop. That good will always triumph over evil and that love and happiness conquer all. The problem is, that while this narrative is clever and provides a base from which to build a cracking film this has been accomplished with too many layers, too many characters and too few actors.

As the stories unravel and we start to see how everything joins together you start to realise why the running time is so long. Each of the 6 stores is a full story. A full depiction of the actions that take place. And this results in so much footage, such lengthy explaination of the glue that binds everything together that there was no way they could edit it down. However, I never actually felt you needed all 6 stories. You could easily lose 2 – Cavendish and Ewing for instance and with some simple script rewrites have a story that is still at heart the same but an hour shorter. An hour more enjoyable.

The fact there are so many stories also creates another, far bigger, issue. The production. To tell the fables and to interweave them together they have firstly, broken each of the stories up into small, manageable bite size junks. But when you have 6 of these on the go at once, trying to follow them through, keep track of what goes where and how things fall from one to the other, results not in a clever montage but rather a confusing and hard to follow mess. This is then backed up and reinforced by the actors. They have recycled the actors throughout the journey. It’s a simple tool. Show 1849 is connected to 1973 by having Tom Hanks play a character in both time periods. Just sprinkle a little makeup here and there and it will reinforce the idea. However, it doesn’t quite work that easily. With this many stories, this many connections and this many actors wearing a variety of different prosthetics you end up playing a game of guess who, trying to work out which actor has become which character, or whether they are somebody totally new and then having to reconnect them every time as the short glimpses into each story are never quite long enough to cement the connection, that by the time you hit hour 3 of the film everything is becoming a bit of a blur.

This is finally compounded by two pieces of casting that slightly, and sadly break the inevitability in the characters and therefore the film as a whole. Hugh Grant and Hugo Weaving. Grant is virtually unrecognisable at times in the sound he brings to his parts but sadly, he can never get the look of “posh Brit” from his eyes and that little glimpse and nervous stammer that work so well with a cucumber sandwich and cotton shirt look completely out of place at the dinner table in the America Deep South. Cloud Atlas was brought to the screen as a joint project between Tom Tykwer and The Wachowski’s, who famously created The Matrix trilogy and stereotyped Weaving into the role of Agent Smith, a role he sadly, channels back into this. He brings that wordy, dialogue heavy tone, what short. Sharp. There can be only one way. And then brings the mannerisms of Smith to the party as well. The facial expressions, the stance, it honestly feels more like a cross over of characters than a new role. And it feels out of place. It muddles the story and the idea.

However, it’s not all bad, while I found the film horrifically too long and then some and I am still completely confused as to exactly what half of it was about or exactly why bits of it connect the way they do; I have to say, I did somehow really enjoy it. But it took a long time to reach this point of enjoyment. I think it’s a case that it’s protracted running time while hindering it also gives you time to eventually just decide to give up trying to search for answers, lose the game of guess who and rather, just sit back, be confused and entertained by the stories on the offer. And while some are pointless, I could happily have watched an entire film based upon the short glimpse we get of Robert Frobisher and The Cloud Atlas Sextet.

Amazingly, 8 out of 10 stars (8 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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