Cloud Atlas Review

If we don’t pay attention to history we’re fated to repeat the mistakes of our past.

That’s how the saying goes anyway, yet in the madly brilliant new opus from the creative team formerly known as the Wachowski brothers, history repeats itself again and again, though thankfully never the same way twice.

First off, let’s get to the plot of Cloud Atlas, though you may struggle to keep up.

I know I did.

So there are 6 different storylines being told simultaneously here, across six different eras and brought to us by three different directors.

As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, the same actors are also recycled in each of these different ages, though they don’t necessarily appear in every one of these storylines.

At least I don’t think they do, it’s pretty hard to keep track of everything that’s going on with Cloud Atlas; which In case you’re not sure is a huge compliment.

Anyway, we begin with an old man from the future telling a story over a campfire; that much I am sure of.

We then jump back in time to the mid-19th century and what I presume is a great ancestor of the future storyteller as they’re both played by Tom Hanks, then forward in time to pre second world war Europe because these stories shift space as well as time, then on to the seventies, the present day, a futuristic 22nd century and then, finally, a post-apocalyptic vision of how 2321 might pan out for us.

In short, Cloud Atlas spans 500 years of human evolution and, as we jump around in a non House Of Pain style from these stories that aren’t told chronologically, it can be tricky to keep up with everything that’s going on.

But that’s another compliment, as I really can’t remember the last time I saw a film as brave, original or of such dizzying scope as Cloud Atlas.

I’m going to give up trying to tell you about the rest of the film, as my review would then spiral similarly out of control in trying to give you the skinny of just the basic premises in each connected storyline.

But whatever you want from a film when going to the cinema, Cloud Atlas will probably give you.

There’s a splendid sense of nostalgia from the great ships and old school costumes of the 19th century narrative, a tender love story taking place in 1930’s London, epic sci-fi action of a future that holds a dark secret at its core and that still only covers half of the film.

Based on the book of the same name by David Mitchell, the creative team of Lana and Andy Wachowski has sweeled to a trio with the addition of Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer, and they all adapted the screenplay for Cloud Atlas before co-directing it as a collective.

The casting places a similar emphasis on this group ethos, with Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon and more playing as many as half a dozen roles of varying intensity across the film’s epic cinematic canvas.

And for the most part it works amazingly well, with the contrasting elements of different storylines complementing each other like a set menu rather than pulling you around in too many opposing directions.

So tense drama is lightened by humour, death is balanced by love and ye olde past contrasts with a neon lit future that only made me more interested in the other stories and how they relate to the others.

Of course, with a project of this size not everything works.

The broken english used by Earth’s now regressed humans in the final layer of Cloud Atlas’ story is often laughable, while some over the top acting from Hanks in particular can grate; none more so than a god awful Irish incarnation he creates for one of his throw away characters in the present day plot.

But these moments are few and quickly forgotten as well as forgiven because of the spectacle everyone has come together to create here.

I feel my words for Cloud Atlas may not do it justice, as it truly is a cinematic event you should experience for yourself.

But if you don’t see Cloud Atlas at the cinema, I think one day you’ll look back and regret this.

Jonathan Campbell

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February 2013
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