Film Review: Cloud Atlas (Warner Bros; 2012)


Cloud Atlas has been described by its author David Mitchell as “unfilmable,” and yet this is what Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings have done. With credits such as The Matrix Trilogy and Run Lola Run credited as the developers previous work, they seem capable taskmasters to undertake the mammoth task of turning the book about 6 separate, yet interweaving stories –  which span centuries – into one cohesive vision.

The settings vary from 1850 – about a young American crossing the pacific; 1931 – and a british composer;  to 1970s California with the discovery of a nuclear scandal; a 1980s publisher trapped in a care home; 2231 where a clone discovers the real world and a post-apocalyptic world with a tribesman searching for answers.

This feat is one the three directors tackle ambitiously and is something they should be applauded for.  It’s rare for films like Cloud Atlas to be created in modern cinema, due to the massive risks attached.  But, sadly, it’s one that is flawed in structure due to the massive – and necessary – structural differences between the film and the book. Whereas the book starts each story in chronological order, with the first five stories ending in a crucial point, the sixth being told fully, then the endings to the previous five being finished in reverse order, so you end where you begin so to speak, the film juxtaposes timelines at a much faster rate. This could be argued is used to engage the audience more and show the interlinking themes – for example the comet tattoo many of the characters have – but it becomes confusing at points as it stops the audience from fully being able to connect with the characters as much as the novel.

However, there are some great highlights to the film; Jim Broadbent as the pensioner trapped in the care home gives the story a pleasant smattering of English comedy. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry also deserve notable attention.  Tom Hanks shows why he has two Oscars to his name and Halle Berry raises her game to a height not seen for a few years: the post-apocalyptic story, which contrasts Tom Hanks’ tribesman and Halle Berry’s futuristic visitor from the mainland, creates some interesting chemistry between the two.

Cloud Atlas is also a visually majestic film, most notably in the 2231 story directed by The  Wachowski siblings – which has obvious links to the visibly stunning world they created in the Matrix Trilogy.

The film addresses a multitude of conventions in a way that leaves the audience member contemplative on its finish.  Many of the actors become unrecognisable, by playing different genders, races and ages; and then there is the idea of love overcoming every obstacle – even time itself. Overall Cloud Atlas is a film many may not want to see, but it is certainly a film that should be seen.

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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