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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
Tom Hanks
Halle Berry
Ben Whishaw
Hugh Grant
Hugo Weaving
Jim Sturgess
Doona Bae.
Directors
Lana Wachowski
Andy Wachowski
Tom Tykwer.
Screenwriters
Lana Wachowski
Tom Tykwer
Andy Wachowski.
Running Time
172 minutes

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Cloud Atlas
Plots. Lots of plots


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Plot
The threads that bind man’s past and future are revealed in six stories that stretch from a 19th-century Pacific island to a far-flung Hawaii via pre-War Edinburgh, ’70s San Francisco, present-day Britain and a dystopian Korea, although not necessarily in that order.


Review
Cloud Atlas

As with most things that pique the interest of the philosopher-geek Wachowksi siblings — on this occasion enrolling compeer Tom Tykwer into their wizard schemes — David Mitchell’s time and tale-traversing novel presented another chance to dally over vaulting matters of life, the universe and everything. Mitchell’s tapestry of six stories contends with the cycles of time, the eternal bust-up between fortune and predestination, and our lonely quest for higher meaning. How mankind is cursed and blessed to repeat himself. And how he makes sense of his capacity for both great good and hideous evil by transforming them into stories and myths; religions and science; songs, novels and movies too. Here also was the chance for Wachowski, Wachowski and Tykwer (who sound as if they are as likely to file a tax return as direct a movie) to spread their creative wings and swoop from the benighted city-state of Neo-Seoul populated by slave clones (forms of slavery persist across storylines), back to a Joseph Conrad-flavoured, 19th century sea-faring tale adrift in the boundless Pacific (oceans and islands are significant), concerning a treacherous ship’s physician with a thing for collecting teeth (baring their own tales of former owners).

Mitchell’s literary remix devised an ingenious Russian-doll structure, moving forward in time through the beginnings of the first five stories of his pyramidal saga, before the sixth, most temporally distant episode played in full, then reversing outwards, completing each story in turn to end exactly where it began. That’s the book. Fearful such a framework might make their adaption feel too much like a portmanteau movie (a set of short films housed under one roof), even if that is exactly how Inception works, the directors take a more cinematically conventional, if technically challenging, approach by crosscutting back and forth between time and place, story and story, guided by an underlying thematic and associative blueprint. You could opt to simply relax and see what comes of letting the waterfall of stories wash over you. Yet, the cryptic layering of it all urges you to open your eyes, ears and dusty lobes to decipher what the Hydra-headed film might be getting at.

There is little doubting the glorious ambition of the project, both as an epic tableau and in terms of its filmmaking engineering. In an age of relentless safety, its cocktail of human foible and movie madness is intoxicating. Even at nigh on three hours, it never drags.

Most daring of the directors’ narrative chicanery is to embody the concept of recurring souls (or a genetic strain) by having the same actors play different parts in different stories. The cast rises to the crazed multiplicity of it all with aplomb. Tom Hanks, marked out by a cornucopia of conks, variously assays that wicked ship’s doctor (stage one), a brute Irish gangster-turned-memoirist (stage four), a sullen landlord in ’30s Edinburgh (stage two), and a cowardly tribesman, mottled in tattoos, in a far-off scorched Earth, whose face greets us as the chronicle begins (stage six). “I’ll tell you the true true...” he warbles in Mad Maxish pigeon-speak, a peculiar man telling tales by an open fire like an aged Homer with its wink to the oral tradition. A good ‘for instance’ of the many drawstrings that pull Cloud Atlas into shape is this referencing of different modes of communication: body art, folktales, music, letters, journalism, fiction, television, the push and pull of interrogation, the dating of incisors. Investigative reporter Luisa Rey (Halle Berry), cottoning on to a cover-up at a local power plant (stage three), is transformed into one of the ‘Luisa Rey’ detective novels by stage four.

You’ll be reading until kingdom come if we supply all the actors and all their parts — and one of the movie’s pleasures is clocking where each materialises, like a game of Where’s Halle?. A hint: amongst her more elusive occurrences, Berry turns up as a Jewish mistress and a Korean man. Another hint: there are through-lines for each actor, where each of their characters echoes a sense of the others. Hugo Weaving, be it as a fusty matron (stage four) or Satanic apparition (stage six), always possesses a menacing aspect not so distant from Agent Smith.

Beyond the book’s intricacies, Cloud Atlas, the film, ponders the architecture of filmmaking. Making connections across time and space is pretty much how films are assembled, and the editing here proves a virtuoso display of overlapping storylines, interweaved via character, theme, image, music and plot. Though subdivided into six parts, the overall film retains a distinctive arc: six starts, six middles and six conclusions. All intermingled. It is, indeed, a symphony, as emphasised by stage two, where Ben Whishaw’s itinerant amanuensis composes the ‘Cloud Atlas Sextet’. A recording of which turns up on vinyl in a San Francisco record shop early in stage three.

Yes, there are flaws — the exuberant sprawl of it all almost welcomes them. Just keeping up can wear you out. Patience is called for. In the book, the pastiche of narrative styles is readily established and cleverly divided, a charm dispelled by the film’s more frenetic structure. This leads to violent lurches in tone. Alighting from the quasi-fantasy, island-set, post-apocalyptic future (stage six) upon the vulgar whimsy of British sitcoms in the contemporary ‘old-people’s home’ sequence (stage four) — in which Jim Broadbent’s geriatric publisher plots escape as if absconding from a POW camp — threatens whiplash. While the high-wire daring of having actors transgress racial lines more often loses its flirtation with taste.

Then, casting Hugh Grant (overarching theme: a rotter) as a rampaging future-world cannibal (stage six) as well as a sun-leathered nouveau riche slimeball (stage four), a deceitful power company exec (stage three), and a predatory Korean restaurant manager (stage five) is surely not to be taken too seriously. Maybe such shudders of taste and style should be applauded. If you’re trying to encompass the entire human story, there’s sure to be as much ridiculous as sublime.


Verdict
Don’t let its commercial nosedive in the US tell the whole story. Cloud Atlas is a tough sell, but a rewarding journey all the same. It’s an adventure into the very concept of storytelling: magical, enthralling and thrilling as much as bewildering, pompous and potty. In other words, up in the clouds.


Reviewed by Ian Nathan

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Cloud Atlas
Empire Star Rating

RE: Disappointing - mediocre

L: demoncleaner L: Olaf The phrase 'exercise in conflation' is an interesting one because it implies an objective measure for artistic merit - you clearly took my post as one such exercise which is fair enough. But when you write 'if the demand really is to think on these set of stories purely as cosmic occurrence and not based on the pleasures of genre fiction then that verdict is consolidating around the film' or 'What's becoming apparent from the release of the film is that the... More

Posted by Olaf at 13:27, 26 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Disappointing - mediocre

L: demoncleaner I think it’s absolutely feasible to say that a reader/viewer can understand the author’s ions than the author…sometimes.  I’m quite prepared to say, ok in the book there’s this message about I don’t know, civilsation’s hubris?  Fair enough, with prose you get away with that sort of thing, it’s a much more subjective medium.  But with a film, and its proven here as far as I’m concerned, you can’t do the “message” without being extremely mealy mouthed about it.     I feel th... More

Posted by Olaf at 13:05, 26 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Disappointing - mediocre

L: Olaf The phrase 'exercise in conflation' is an interesting one because it implies an objective measure for artistic merit - you clearly took my post as one such exercise which is fair enough. But when you write 'if the demand really is to think on these set of stories purely as cosmic occurrence and not based on the pleasures of genre fiction then that verdict is consolidating around the film' or 'What's becoming apparent from the release of the film is that the option to enjoy the sour... More

Posted by demoncleaner at 12:51, 26 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Disappointing - mediocre

L: demoncleaner L: AxlReznor I do believe that the book and the film can be enjoyed separately from each other, and it can be read than just an exercise in genre fiction. The same way any piece of genre fiction can be read as just that. But it can also be read (and was intended to be) as a message to humanity about their self-destructive tendencies that have been responsible for our rise and if we don't change, ] be responsible for our fall. It's the kind of thing Mitchell did in 'Ghost... More

Posted by AxlReznor at 12:45, 26 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Disappointing - mediocre

L: MonsterCat Never thought I'd see Cloud Atlas and Neighbours mentioned in the same sentence. Anyways, I watching this this afternoon, and if it isn't any good I'm afraid Axl, Olaf and Rgirvan will have to reimburse me the ticket price. ey... you can't say I didn't warn you (in another thread) that it's a love-it or hate-it deal. ... More

Posted by AxlReznor at 12:32, 26 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Disappointing - mediocre

Never thought I'd see Cloud Atlas and Neighbours mentioned in the same sentence. Anyways, I watching this this afternoon, and if it isn't any good I'm afraid Axl, Olaf and Rgirvan will have to reimburse me the ticket price. ... More

Posted by MonsterCat at 12:31, 26 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Disappointing - mediocre

L: AxlReznor I do believe that the book and the film can be enjoyed separately from each other, and it can be read than just an exercise in genre fiction. The same way any piece of genre fiction can be read as just that. But it can also be read (and was intended to be) as a message to humanity about their self-destructive tendencies that have been responsible for our rise and if we don't change, ] be responsible for our fall. It's the kind of thing Mitchell did in 'Ghostwritten', too. T... More

Posted by demoncleaner at 12:20, 26 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Disappointing - mediocre

I think the best example of the book being "about books" and the film being "about films" is shown in the small change to the Sonmi story. SPOILERS IN WHITE book, Sonmi writes what is pretty much a Bible in which she lays out her own version of the "Catechisms" that Fabricants have been forced to live their lives by in order to inspire the Fabricants and their allies to rise up against their oppressors. The book is then circulated via word of mouth. Whereas in the film, she is take... More

Posted by AxlReznor at 11:39, 26 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Disappointing - mediocre

The phrase 'exercise in conflation' is an interesting one because it implies an objective measure for artistic merit - you clearly took my post as one such exercise which is fair enough. But when you write 'if the demand really is to think on these set of stories purely as cosmic occurrence and not based on the pleasures of genre fiction then that verdict is consolidating around the film' or 'What’s becoming apparent from the release of the film is that the option to enjoy the source prose for ... More

Posted by Olaf at 11:14, 26 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Disappointing - mediocre

L: Olaf Warning! Thesis about the meaning of this doggerel incoming. I really enjoyed the film, personally. ------------------------------------------------------- ------------------------------------------------------ I'm usually opposed to reviews of film adaptations that dwell for ages on the differences between the book and the movie, but it seems necessary in this case because of the book in question – specifically, the way that it's a book about books and how the Wachows... More

Posted by demoncleaner at 10:42, 26 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Disappointing - mediocre

Very well-written review, Olaf. Although I'd say that whilst I agree that Ben Whishaw's performance is fantastic, Doona Bae gives him a run for his money as the star of the film. I was mesmerised every time she was on screen. ... More

Posted by AxlReznor at 08:10, 26 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Disappointing - mediocre

Warning! Thesis about the meaning of this doggerel incoming. I really enjoyed the film, personally. ------------------------------------------------------- ------------------------------------------------------ I’m usually opposed to reviews of film adaptations that dwell for ages on the differences between the book and the movie, but it seems necessary in this case because of the book in question – specifically, the way that it’s a book about books and how the Wachowskis and Tom T... More

Posted by Olaf at 01:41, 26 February 2013 | Report This Post


Disappointing - mediocre

6 stories strung together with tenuous links... Just didn't work for me. It wasn't bad, just not as clever as it thinks it is. Only a couple of stories really worked for me was New Seoul: i would have liked to have seen that section developed further, along with the song writing piece. Good performances from most people however. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by howiet1971 at 16:57, 25 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Cloud Atlas

L: AxlReznor Nope. You've definitely misunderstood it. He's writing on the style of a pulpy piece of fiction in the Luisa Rey mystery, because that's how he's presenting it. The connections were never meant to be tenuous, although the stories of course be enjoyed separately, because they are six different narratives and not part of one "crossthrough" plot.   But it's dread as a full novel, and that's how most people get the most out of it. And if they had in any way misread the ... More

Posted by demoncleaner at 13:49, 25 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Cloud Atlas

Personally I preferred to interpret the protagonists as broadly allegorical 'connected' souls rather than literally being reincarnations of the previous one (I guess the beauty of literature compared to film is that it allows for more ambiguity on this point), but yeah you've totally misread the intent of the book otherwise. The very fact that these 'pithy' genre stories are given recurring cosmic significance by their placement in a story such as this is Mitchell's way of affirming the medium'... More

Posted by Olaf at 12:50, 25 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Cloud Atlas

Nope. You've definitely misunderstood it. He's writing on the style of a pulpy piece of fiction in the Luisa Rey mystery, because that's how he's presenting it. The connections were never meant to be tenuous, although the stories of course be enjoyed separately, because they are six different narratives and not part of one "crossthrough" plot. But it's dread as a full novel, and that's how most people get the most out of it. And if they had in any way misread the book, the film would never be ... More

Posted by AxlReznor at 12:01, 25 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Cloud Atlas

L: AxlReznor Actually, the book at numerous points hints that the stories are of the same soul travelling through time... some characters remember things from previous stories, or have premonitions of later stories, etc. It was always the intention that they were connected (they're also connected to his other books, Ghostwritten, number9dream and Black Swan Green). The Wachowski's haven't misunderstood anything... in fact, they passed the script over to Mitchell for approval first to mak... More

Posted by demoncleaner at 10:38, 25 February 2013 | Report This Post


enjoyed it

I really, really liked it. Bonkers, but very fun. The only part I didn't enjoy was the far future tale - couldn't understand what Hanks (or anyone) was saying!? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by tysmuse at 23:43, 24 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Four stars,REALLY ?

I've seen a house fly, I've seen a circus fly, and now I've seen Hugo Weaving wearing a dress need to see it again as I don't really know what I just watched, but I still loved it. ... More

Posted by Hood_Man at 15:59, 24 February 2013 | Report This Post


Four stars,REALLY ?

What a mess,I didn't get it,on the other hand it is a beautiful looking and well acted film.i don't trust empires reviews ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by paulmitchell at 10:27, 24 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Cloud Atlas

Absolutely loved this, having gone in fully expecting to be disappointed (having loved the book). Interestingly enough, my wife who hated the book, also loved the film. My only criticism would be that because it used the same cast from story thread to story thread, it joined up some of the dots in a slightly patronizing and unnecessary way. However, I did enjoy the curiosity of seeing the same actors turning up in different (almost absurd) guises throughout and in many cases actually pulling... More

Posted by Prophet_of_Doom at 23:41, 23 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Cloud Atlas

I haven't read the book so I don't come to this film with a great deal of knowledge other than being intrigued by the trailer and having been impressed by Tom Twykwer's previous adaptation of a tricky novel, Perfume by Patrick Susskind, which showed a flair for literary adaptations. I have to say that I was incredibly disappointed with Cloud Atlas. Not such much a singular film as much as an anthology piece, Cloud Atlas, is six separate stories across time and space with characters played... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Groovy Mule at 23:35, 23 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Cloud Atlas

After the long wait since the US release in October - a period in which I read the book, and saw the wide difference of opinion the film had created - I was actually kind of dreading watching this. What if the film's many detractors were right? What if the trailer was a highly entertaining advertisement for a huge lumbering mess of a movie as had been feared?   So let's get that out of the way straight off the bat. All of my fears were completely unfounded. I was waiting for the mom... More

Posted by AxlReznor at 21:51, 23 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Cloud Atlas

I loved it. Sprawling, ambitious, funny, touching, bewildering, over-reaching, loopy and endearing. My only real critisms would be that some of the story strands resonate less than others and the make-up effects vary from mesmerising to flat-out awful in places. I can see why it's been so polarising, the screening I saw seemed to enthrall half the audience and irritate the tits off the rest, I'm glad to say I'm a member of the former. It's a shame it's been largely ignored awards wise... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by paulyboy at 17:30, 23 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Cloud Atlas

L: demoncleaner Quite honestly the single most hellishly awful film I think I have ever seen...and I own a Godard boxset. I enjoyed the book, the thing about the book is that it's absolutely an anthology of unconnected stories, any attempt by Mitchell to join the novellas is Mitchell being cheeky.b]Quite honestly the single most hellishly awful "review" I think I have ever seen...and I manage to stomach Kim Newman's reviews on a monthly basis. To say that you have missed the point wo... More

Posted by fang at 01:39, 23 February 2013 | Report This Post


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