So, last night I watched Cloud Atlas. And what a long night it was. At a lengthy two hours and 52 minutes, this is a shambling, rambling, behemoth of a film.
Synopsis: to write a synopsis is, in itself, something of a challenge. There are six different stories – 19th century sea voyage with stowaway/1970s journalist in discovery of life-threatening plot/modern-day publisher and victim of revenge plot/1930s composer love-story/human cloning in futuristic Korea/postapocalyptic further future.
I believe the premise is the journey of a ‘soul’ and how our actions – good or bad – echo throughout time affecting and influencing future generations. Or something.
What can I say? In many ways this film is all about scale – it wants to be epic. It certainly has the length; it attempts to tell multiple different stories all at once; the special effects and creation of other Earths, past, present and future is grand and impressive. It also tries to raise some lofty philosophical questions about the nature good and bad, and the consequences of each individual’s actions. At least I think that’s the intention. There are some big name stars in there too, each playing multiple characters across the different stories including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugh Grant.
My main problem with Cloud Atlas, and its a big one, is that it simply tries to pack too much in and in doing so never really does any of it justice. A prime example is the charming little story starring the always excellent Jim Broadbent as a down-on-his-luck publisher, featuring Hugo Weaving as the buxom and evil Nurse Noakes. This is a real bright light among all the gloom, especially as it doesn’t try to be profound. It is simply quite comical and genuinely enjoyable. That said, against the other stories, it seems incongruous and I wasn’t sure why it was included at all.
The tagline on the poster is ‘Everything in connected’ and I would imagine they hoped to hammer home these connections by using the same actors to play different characters: I can confirm it didn’t work. By the time all six stories had been introduced I was positively baffled about who all these people were and why they were all appearing in the same film, and as it progressed, I’m not sure it became that much clearer. One minute Tom Hanks is a key character in the post-apocalyptic story, a tribesman in a land that’s gone back to basics (it doesn’t get much more basic than cannibalism) and the next he’s a murderous slavery era Dr, then he’s a 1970s scientist etc etc ad nauseam. But so what?
And the make-up, while technically quite brilliant in places, served as a major distraction and added to the confusion – familiar actors made to look altogether different in different scenes doesn’t help you connect them together. I spent the first five minutes of one story asking ‘is that cannibal Hugh Grant? No, it can’t be. Yes, it is!’ by which point I’d missed the set up and had even more trouble figuring out what, in the name of arse, was going on. And don’t even get me going on the race swapping – a Korean James D’arcy? A caucasian Doona Bae? Just weird.
I don’t have much to say about the performances except that Hugh Grant was underused, Jim Broadbent and Hugo Weaving were both solid, as you’d expect, and Ben Whishaw makes for a convincing tortured artist. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry just weren’t that interesting.
Final thoughts: confused and confusing, part tedious and part engaging, I think this film has ideas above its station. As a viewer you need to invest a lot in Cloud Atlas just to stay with it all the way through, and I’m not convinced the pay off is worth it. I haven’t read the book (and after seeing the film I doubt I will) but I think it might have been better served had it been made into a mini-series.
Running time: 2 hrs 52 mins
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw
Directed by: Andy and Lana Wachowski (of Matrix fame), Tom Tykwer