Cloud Atlas – A Movie Review

This movie, adapted from the exceedingly difficult novel by David Mitchell and directed by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, shot right into my top five favorites of all time.

I’ve never seen anything quite like this film.


If you’re unfamiliar with the book, it presents six different storylines that are loosely related.  Mitchell gives you the first half of each in the first part of the book, then the second half of each in the last part of the book.  Each storyline is written vastly different, seemingly by different authors.   At times, it seems incomprehensible.

I won’t lie to you – I did not enjoy the book whatsoever while reading it.  However, upon finishing it, it burrowed into my mind and I grew to love it.  But it is a hard, hard, hard book to read.

The movie, as one would expect, is far more digestible.  It still adheres to the six storylines, but it now weaves in and out of those storylines as they progress, transitioning from one to the other to the next and back again.  The viewer experiences them nearly all at once, while, in the book, you had to work your way through each section and connect the dots on your own.

The story spans hundreds of years.  One story takes place in the 1800s, two more take place in the 1900s, one takes place in 2012, another takes place in the twenty-second century, and the last takes place sometime after 2300.

I won’t go into great detail about the film’s plot, because that would take far too much time, but the film maintains that all are connected, that aspects of ourselves live on, both good and bad, and that love, justice, and equality are things worth fighting for, even if it’s across the chasms of time.

Now, this is a departure from the book.  In my mind, the book implied that the stories were connected, but it did not overtly state that the characters were, in a way, reincarnations.  The film, by using the same actors to play nearly six different parts each, definitely wanted the audience to take note.

This is a complicated, well executed, beautiful movie to behold.  It’s a little bit of a comedy, a little bit of a mystery action film, a little bit of a science fiction adventure, a little bit of a post-apocalyptic dystopia, a little bit of a period piece, and a little bit of a philosophical wake-up call, yet it’s not completely any of these things.  It is unlike anything else.  It is all of them at once.  It is new.  It is original.  It is refreshing.

Tom Hanks, who, frankly, initially struck me as miscast, gave this movie its heart and soul and I loved him in it.  There were several times he nearly moved me to tears.  Halle Berry was the best I’ve ever seen her.  Jim Broadbent stole the show as the ridiculous Timothy Cavendish.  Hugo Weaving is always fun to watch no matter what he’s doing.  And good old Hugh Grant finally impressed me as an actor – he did a wonderful job!  In fact, all of the actors in this movie were fantastic.  They made a tremendously ambitious movie feel cozy and inviting.  They made an epic feel personal.

You’ll notice as the film advances that several actors play different roles in different time periods.  In all cases they work.  As already mentioned, these are very good actors and they were chosen wisely.  My only complaint about the entire film is when they had Caucasian actors playing Asian characters. It was incredibly distracting and took me out of the movie a little bit.  The prosthetic artists got it almost perfect, but not quite, and so I found myself wondering who was really Asian and who wasn’t, and that’s something I didn’t want to think about as I watched the movie.  Hugo Weaving as an Asian man was especially jarring.  The eyes were so unnatural that they seemed almost to be mocking.  I know this was not the directors’ intent, but it did come off that way to a degree.

On the flip side, I totally understand why they did that.  Far more so than the book, the film adaptation goes to great lengths to impart upon us that race, creed, and color should not matter when it comes to love and justice.  The movie had African Americans playing Caucasians, Asians playing Hispanics, men playing women, women playing men, etc.  The message, of course, is that our core, our very soul, takes precedence over our outward appearance.  Justice is deserved by all.

By the way, if you have an opportunity to buy the soundtrack, do so.  It is a beautiful, fulfilling musical score that lives up to the mythos of the Cloud Atlas Sextet.  I listen to it all the time while I write, I have for months, and it sounds new to me each and every time.  I actually bought it long before I saw the movie because, after previewing it, I knew it was something very, very special.  (I’m listening to it now, even as I type.)

I understood Cloud Atlas because I read the novel beforehand, but I’m not sure I could make that statement had I not read the book.  Be that as it may, this movie is not only a visual triumph, it is also ambitious in its storytelling and unafraid to take risks.  The acting is superb, the music is heart wrenching, the characters are charismatic, the story is captivating – this movie surpassed my expectations.

In other words, I loved it and I think you should watch it.