Cloud Atlas is an ambitious if not wholly successful project. Some of the film’s strands are definitely stronger than others.
A voyage across the Pacific in 1849, a young English musician trying to compose music in 1936, a journalistic investigation in San Francisco 1976, a book publisher in 2012, a cloned waitress in Korea 2144, and post-apocalyptic Hawaii. All these people and events are connected…
Directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski, Cloud Atlas is an ambitious amalgamation of six different stories set at different times and in different locations, with the same actors playing multiple parts. The film has a strong start, but some stories wane as others become more interesting. It is the contemporary-set strand which is most entertaining, given its humour.
With its interwoven stories, it is unclear how the film will map out. Some of the strands are engaging whilst the post-apocalyptic strand in particular fails to capture the imagination. Cutting frequently from story to story, it is difficult to gauge how far along in the narrative the film is at any particular time. As a result, the film feels like it is heading to its conclusion a lot sooner than it actually does. The second half of Cloud Atlas seems sluggish in comparison with the first half. With a running time of just under three hours, viewers will be forgiven for getting restless.
The different eras are given very distinctive looks. Parts of the future-set sequences are highly reminiscent of other films. There is also a part of the narrative that resembles another film, although an overt reference is made to this earlier in proceedings. The score is great, but some of the prosthetics are very noticeable. The changing of races and genders is odd, but adds to the overall theme of the film.
Performances in Cloud Atlas are great for the most part, with a number of the actors taking several different roles. Ben Whishaw stands out in the 1936 strand, while Hugo Weaving is strong in all his roles. Jim Broadbent also delivers strong performances, and Tom Hanks is as solid as ever.
If the cod philosophy is ignored, Cloud Atlas is entertaining enough. Ultimately it is the fact that the film is overlong which lets it down. An interesting concept which would have been wonderful if the directors could have fully pulled it off.