Sky-High Hopes for ‘Cloud Atlas’ Come Crashing Down

'Cloud Atlas' banner

Despite the star-studded cast and big budget I’d heard almost nothing about the Cloud Atlas before sitting down to watch it. I knew it was based on book, but otherwise I knew nothing. With a name like that, I was actually expecting something along the lines of Water for Elephants (perhaps I had it confused with Charlie St Cloud?), with pretty scenery but mostly just another romance flick.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that this film ambitiously tackles six stories, each set in a different decade (spanning from the 1800s through to a post-apocalyptic future) with unique characters, and each in a slightly different style. It worked surprisingly well and for the most part all the stories were engaging and entertaining (with the Neo-Korean future perhaps the most compelling, and the tale of an arrogant young composer at the turn of the 20th century slightly dull and pointless). They managed to swap between stories without a jarring feeling, and the pacing was great with a good balance of action, suspense, comedy and drama. It was shaping up to be a really compelling, multilayered film with all the shades from bumbling British comedy, through murder mystery and period drama, to sci-fi action-thriller. By mid-film I began to wonder if the book could be intriguing enough to break my dreaded book-reading draught. As it built to a climax, I was very excited to see how these stories would tie together in the end…

But they didn’t. In the end each of the stories just kind of rounded off, without any real connection. Hints at the other stories are dropped occasionally; the 21st century publisher reading a manuscript based on the 1970s murder mystery, the music of the 1930’s composer playing at a future fast food restaurant, etc. But these seemed token and have no more bearing on the consecutive stories any than The Beatles or Wuthering Heights have had on my life (which is basically none). There was a flimsy attempt to imply a deeper moral about history repeating itself, and the actions of each individual having consequences throughout history, but there just wasn’t enough of a tangible link between the stories for this to really resonate for me.

Another common critique of the film is the way the actors play different roles in each of the stories, and some viewers may find that the fairly obvious prosthetics ruin the immersion. I didn’t find this to be the case and I was able to enjoy the film despite the make-up jobs. Except for one; South Korean actress Doona Bae looks nothing short of alien made up as a red-haired 1800s socialite.

Donna Bae in 'Cloud Atlas'

I kept my eye out for a link between the various roles each of the actors played in the story line, but couldn’t find one. This didn’t bother me all that much, but if the intention was to imply that the characters were related, or perhaps the same ‘souls’ repeating the same mistakes, this was lost on me. All of the actors did a good job portraying their various characters, and they were just that – varied. They didn’t seem to have any similar personality traits, and didn’t play the same roles in each of the stories as far as I could tell.

Each of the individual stories are well done, however, putting them into the same film just sets the audience up for disappointment. It set up high hopes, and then completely botched the landing. Still it was an entertaining enough film and I’ll give it 3 out of 5 stars.

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2 Comments to “Sky-High Hopes for ‘Cloud Atlas’ Come Crashing Down”

  1. I thought it was really interesting how your take away about which of the individuals stories were the best and worst respectively, was nearly the complete opposite of mine. I thought the part with the composer was extremely well done, as well as the story that had the most original substance behind it. While I actually loved this movie, I thought the future part was a bit of a week point plot wise, and while it looked great visually, It failed to do anything other then tell a story based in well known Sci-Fi tropes.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. I think you’re right that the future plot played heavily on Sci-Fi tropes and was consequentially predictable, but I found this to be the case with all of the stories, each of them played on the tropes of the particular genre it was attempting to portray and were all essentially predictable. My problem with the young composer is that he began the story as arrogant and entitled, and then didn’t develop or learn anything by the end, he just made one selfish mistake after another.

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