Cloud Atlas (Andy & Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, 2013)

What's it about? An adaptation of David Mitchell's acclaimed 2004 novel, it tells six interconnected stories, set over different time periods. So we have.....deep breath.....(1) the experiences of Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) on a Pacific voyage in 1849, (2) the struggles of musician Robert Frobisher (Ben Wishaw) to compose a new piece in 1936 England, (3) reporter Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) uncovering a nuclear conspiracy in 1970s San Francisco, (4) the antics of Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) as he attempts to escape from an old people's home in modern day England, (5) the account of a genetically engineered clone (Doona Bae) in Neo-Seoul, 2144 and finally (6) the advantures of Zachry (Tom Hanks), a primitive tribesman living in Hawaii in a post-apocalyptic far-future. And......breathe.


Halle Berry. Honestly!
Not so hot now, is she?
Is it any good? An ambitious undertaking, but never really reaches atmospheric or stratospheric heights. To be fair to the directors, they have been brave in tackling Mitchell's 'unfilmable' novel and wrestling it into shape for the screen. In the book, the stories have a Russian doll structure, each split in half to reveal another within. However, the film opts to smash the dolls and mix the pieces together, connecting them thematically at key moments in each tale. This is a strategy that works well in theory, but only partially in practice. Part of the problem is that the stories are not all equally engaging and interlinking them only serves to dilute the impact of the better sections. Another problematic element is the casting of the same actors in multiple roles, an approach which ranges from effective to distracting. Some are convincing throughout (Hugh Grant surprisingly good as a bloodthirsty cannibal, Hugo Weaving surprisingly good as a stern matron), whilst some are almost unrecognizable underneath their prosthetics. Others, like Hanks, turn up in each section and even under layers of make-up, the immediate reaction is 'Oh, look! There's Tom Hanks. Doesn't he look silly?' Clearly, the idea of multiple casting, emphasized throughout by some rather pointed moments of voice-over, is to reinforce the idea that human lives are connected across space and time by the same emotions, experiences, hopes, dreams, fates, blah, blah, blah. Perhaps, but did we need almost three hours to tell us that? Despite some good moments, it just doesn't work overall.

Hugo Weaving. Honestly!
Quite hot now, isn't he?
Anything else I should know? Allow me to proffer a cloud analogy. (NB. I'm not tragic enough to have an in-depth knowledge of clouds, but I am totally tragic enough to look up a cloud atlas website to write a movie review). Anyhow, in cloud terms it is aiming to be a mix of wide-ranging, dense, dark nimbus and fluffy, airy, imagination-stimulating cumulus, but it actually ends up being more like that sky-high, wispy, insubstantial cirrus, which lasts a long time, but tends to evaporate without leaving much impression. 

What does the Fonz think? Not enough silver linings.



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