‘Cloud Atlas’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 18th, 2014 at 4:08 am,

Cloud Atlas Review starring Tom Hanks Halle Berry Hugh Grant and Susan Sarandon Cloud Atlas Review

This is a unique blockbuster experience and is the type of bold choice in filmmaking that (in my opinion) deserves to be applauded

With Cloud Atlas, writing/directing duo The Wachowskis (The Matrix Trilogy) and their collaborator Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) attempt to convert David Mitchell’s multi-layered, multi-faceted novel into a blockbuster movie experience that feeds both the mind and the soul. To call it ambitious would be an understatement.

The story is in fact six stories, spread across various epochs of time (the mid-19th century, the early 1930s, the mid-1970s, 2012, the future, and a more distant future). In each of these stories, we meet various characters (played by the same ensemble of actors) whose lives, experiences and legacies ripple throughout past and future via artistic connective threads like music, writing or film footage, shaping life, destiny – and even the fate of the world, in some cases. As each story progresses along its arc, a web of cosmic significance slowly but surely comes into view, reminding us that our lives are not just our own, and our connections to others – whether comprehended or not – are far more precious than we may know.

Jim Sturgess and David Gyasi in Cloud Atlas Cloud Atlas Review

Jim Sturgess and David Gyasi in ‘Cloud Atlas’

Whether you “get it” or not – agree with its heady spiritual themes or not - Cloud Atlas is a unique blockbuster movie experience that should nonetheless be experienced. In my own view, the movie delivers on more fronts than most other movies manage to deliver on any one front – comedy, romance, drama, horror, spectacle – and is an enthralling ride from start to grand finish, punctuated by some fantastic performances brought to life through the aid of amazing makeup and special effects work.

The script (written by the Wachowskis and Tykwer) drops you right into the thick of things, opening with a grizzled-looking Tom Hanks narrating a tale which quickly breaks into separate vignettes, with the main characters of each tale setting the stage for their respective stories, before things “slow down” into longer sequences set in each epoch. Thereafter, we slip between each different sequence at key transitions – witnessing a moment of triumph in one story, even as we are greeted with a moment of horror or tragedy in another. The screenwriters take what was, by many an accounts, an “unadaptable” novel and manage to deftly convey the entire tale in full depth. And, while some segments are admittedly more interesting than others, there is little that feels extraneous, unnecessary or (worst of all) boring.  

Ben Whishaw and Jim Broadbent in Cloud Atlas Cloud Atlas Review

Ben Whishaw and Jim Broadbent in ‘Cloud Atlas’

The makeup work is astounding, and indeed Cloud Atlas offers the attentive viewer a fun time of picking out all the different versions of the same actor – sometimes as a main player, sometimes just background face – offering much humor and food for thought as to how these “reincarnated figures” are meant to be understood, thematically. Yes, there has been controversy due to the fact that some actors appear as different races and/or genders, and that is an issue which will ultimately be insurmountable for some viewers. All I can say is that there is definite intention behind this stylistic choice, and it is treated with respect and reverence on the part of the filmmakers. Be sure to hang around for the credits: you may be pleasantly surprised by just how many times an actor actually showed up onscreen, and where.

Performances are strong in the film, with nary a weak link to be found in the ensemble. Tom Hanks delivers both scene-chewing and subtly layered performances in his various roles; Halle Berry is pretty much the ethereal spirit she is meant to be, slipping effortlessly from race-to-race, gender-to-gender, like a spiritual chameleon. Jim Broadbent (Harry Potter 6) steals the screen whenever he’s on it, and provides much of the film’s comedic relief; Doona Bae is a breakout performer, whose haunting presence and stare will stick with you long after the film ends.

Hugo Weaving and James DArcy in Cloud Atlas Cloud Atlas Review

Hugo Weaving and James D’Arcy in ‘Cloud Atlas’

Hugh Grant and Hugo Weaving are frightening and repulsive as the two evil spirits that infect every epoch, while acclaimed UK thespians like James D’Arcy (Master and Commander), Ben Whishaw (Skyfall) and Jim Sturgess (The Way Back) inject humanity and gravity into some of the more pivotal roles in the story. I’m only scratching the surface here: actors like Keith David, Xun Zhou, David Gyasi and Susan Sarandon are just a few of the additional players who show up here and there for strong supporting roles.

On the directorial side: The Wachowskis (who direct the 19th century and futuristic segments) are back to form after their questionable Speed Racer adaptation – and their partnering with Tykwer (who helmed the 1930s, ’70s and 2012 segments) is a match made of the same cosmic design the film describes. Cloud Atlas is a massive undertaking, and the directorial team manages to create six separate films that each feel like quality compositions all their own, but still function as a cohesive whole. Again, some segments turned out better than others – but each of them feels unique, vibrant, and perfectly in step with the respective genres they draw from (classic period pieces, contemporary meta comedy, sci-fi fantasy, dystopian drama, etc).

Doona Bae and Jim Sturgess in Cloud Atlas Cloud Atlas Review

Doona Bae and Jim Sturgess in ‘Cloud Atlas’

The thinnest segment (in terms of construction) is probably the 1970s storyline, which at times feels like a kitschy riff on the era, rather than an actual representation of that period in filmmaking; however, it nonetheless offers some compelling sequences, and is smartly regulated to limited screen time. The “Neo Seoul” and dystopian “After the Fall” segments are wonderfully realized, and help remind us that the Wachowskis are indeed top-tier visionaries when it comes to thought-provoking sci-fi filmmaking.

Tykwer surprises in a different fashion, bringing genuine humor and heart to those segments that don’t benefit from the aid of grand spectacle. The 21st Century segment (with Jim Broadbent as bumbling publisher Timothy Cavendish) plays like an elderly, comedic version of One Flew the Cuckoo’s Nest, and is an uproariously good time all its own. Quite a feat when that same story is set against, say, a futuristic action spectacle featuring multiple chase scenes and shootouts.

Jim Broadbent in Cloud Atlas Cloud Atlas Review

Jim Broadbent in ‘Cloud Atlas’

While not everyone will embrace the overarching theme of spirituality and reincarnation that links the threads of Cloud Atlas together, there is still so much rich material within the tapestry to offer something to just about everyone - regardless of who they are, where they’re from, or what their personal beliefs and values are. As stated at the start: this is a unique blockbuster experience and is the type of bold choice in filmmaking that (in my opinion) deserves to be applauded – if for no other reason than the ambitious intent to say something greater about life and experience.

Best of all, the journey to that destination touches upon just about every emotion possible – while at the same time challenging both the mind and the eye with big ideas and small (but important) brushstrokes of detail. If there was ever a movie that truly engaged the viewer, this is it. At nearly three hours, it does begin to wear on you as it comes down the final stretch, but the payoff at the end is worthwhile – and, dare I say, even beautiful.

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If you want to share your thoughts on the film, check out our Cloud Atlas Spoilers Discussion – or listen to an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors in our Cloud Atlas episode of the SR Underground podcast.

Cloud Atlas is now playing in theaters everywhere. It is Rated R for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use.

Our Rating:

4.5 out of 5
(Must-See)

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114 Comments

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  1. Just like The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions, this is a film that thinks it’s a lot smarter than it really is. It thinks it’s a lot more inspirational than it really is too. This movie pounded out one liner after one liner, just hoping that it would make an emotional dent and affect us on a deeper level. It was almost desperate; desperate to make the audience adhere to its own silly plot and theme. The thing is, it didn’t work because it was a terrible story, not because it was a ballsy film that the masses can’t understand on a deeper level. I love films that push the envelope AND tell a great story. If the story is not there, the audience is not there. This tried to be a great film and fell flat on its face, just like the Matrix series. This had no heart, and that is why it fell flat. It sometimes inspires on an intellectual level, but never on an emotional level. This was simply a pretentious lecture by the Wachowskis and Tywkner. Movie goers, consciously or unconsciously, know when they are being lectured by a film. Great films punch you in the gut. This one slapped you in the face. That is why it failed at the box office and didn’t bring in the audience a spectacle film like this should have.

    • get a life

  2. One of the greatest movies dare I say ever! I love movies and this is a profound one. If you don’t see the genius that is OK means you are not ready to see it. Bottom line if you can see it and sum it up is that every act you do has a meaning and impacted on the past present and future.

  3. Anyone fully awake will understand how great this movie is.people are too busy watching a chicks love affair with a werewolf and vampire to watch anything that speaks of reality.most movie critics are idiots that are more worried about a pay check. they can care less about a movie with a great message.its the kind of movie you must watch more than once.you catch something new everytime.

  4. Great review! Congrats!

  5. Garbage film. Utterly failed at Box office. The controversy over race
    issue became a problem the director should take a responsibility. This is
    amazing the 3 directors did not know using Yellowface poses a racism at
    Asian male. They brought back same old Hollwood’s anti-Asian male sterotype. Look at Yellowfaces they use. They look like a monster not resemble any Korean or Asian males. pathetic make-up might failed this film. But I’m glad that this anti-Asian male film flop at West.

    • Sorry for you Jay … maybe one day you’ll understand the message. This film is not about races at all it’s about life and connection with universe … who ever see it as like you, it must have some issues. I wish you all the best and for once let your soul speak out and give to your ego a day off.

    • I’m surprised you say that because even though some people found the film to be offensive at times, the make-up was absolutely incredible. Films like this are the reason “make-up” is actually a category at award shows, and it’s a shame that it got passed up on. Oh and box office success doesn’t always translate into a good movie. On the contrary, a lot of bad movies do well in the box office because they have a huge fan base, be it little children, teenage girls, etc.

      • Yes, just look at Transformers. I know it gets a hard time, but it’s not really the best movie is it? It kicked ass Box Office wise.

  6. There were times it felt that you were being preached to, others that you were being screamed at, by the underlying truths of the movie, but most of the time, I felt, it was a whisper that you needed to pay attention to or you will miss something crucial. I understand, given its length, it is hard for most to notice, let alone remember, all the foreshadowing moments, the plots of some storyline, or even the character’s significance to their own timeline. This is a movie lover’s movie. Six films in one, each with their own significant story that creates a chain reaction through the others. I fell they did a great job with the source material, and I wish more people were daring enough to even attempt to make such challenging (financially, technically, and creatively) and engrossing stories.

    • ^^^
      YES

  7. 6 the number 6– 6 movies in one.. like getting 6 dvd players, 6 completely separate dvd’s and watching a Minuit or so of each at a time. This “Movie” is 2 sci fi films, 2 drama’s, 1 comedy, and 1 action. It gave me a headache I was expecting a Matrix like movie but what I got was jumping from one film to the next totally unrelated.. And what’s up with the gay guy I don’t care about the gay guys- his story did not interest me. It would of been an alright movie if it was just the sci fi films but it had to go and put movies inside movies. Why?? What is the point? Their are 6 plots, 6 movies, and 6 story-lines.. With the same actors…I was disappointed to say the least

    • The main, inter-connecting story here is oppression. All the stories deal with it in different ways, but it all comes down to it in the end. Each story has it’s own individual theme and story, but the resounding one is that, oppression from some higher power. Similar themes to the Matrix trilogy in many ways, which was itself about breaking free from this world. Also, Somni 451′s story was similar to Neo’s, in that they were both messiah-like, like Jesus. They have followers, a small group of people who believe in what they have to say, but only in death do they reach their full potential, what they were supposed to be. This is the best movie I have ever seen, I’ve never seen anything close to this ambitious work from the great Wachowskis. I’m looking forward to Jupiter Ascending now.

  8. It really is “to each, his own” but I cannot help feel disappointed for those that don’t seem to have understood the meaning and in my opinion, the importance of the story.

    In a world flooded with action/romance/comedy themes; when a reflective tale of somebody’s view on the meaning for experiencing life comes along, I really feel due consideration should be given to understanding their message. This is one such story and whether or not you believe your soul passes from body to body with the flow of time or not, the concept is itself worthy of your attention. It seems to me that the idea that life is for experiencing and growing (generally for good) is a noble one.

    The characters played by Hanks, Berry etc all felt heartwarming as they headed ‘towards the light’, moving them (if you subscribe to theism) towards God and ultimate goodness. If viewed simply as a materialistic (matter is all there is, quantum ignorance) series of life experiences retried then ultimately the movie can and will only be empty. But if your view is that our perception is veiled from what existence is about and that ideas such as this give a glimpse of the possibility of an infinite intelligence and that intelligence’s plan for us, then I think it transcends the role of entrainment and puts itself forward as a genuine conversation peace as to the ‘bigger picture’.

    I suspect ‘The New Atheists’ will head the queue in berating the movie but for them I feel simply pity, living a life without hope that an existence beyond the material exists can only be empty. Watching this movie had me genuinely moved that we might just all be in a position to learn an infinite amount of information on what existence is all about.

    I cannot understand criticism that includes a failure to see that a benevolent intelligence is at work behind the destiny of those involved. I really feel that that particular demographic haven’t unlocked their ability to step aside from their preconceptions and consider what the movie is trying to say. Perhaps another look is due by them?

    • James, well done!
      The true meaning is not held within the actors but within the characters they play, within the time they live and within their experiences they are going through. The directors (the writer) could show us better the importance of our spirits “living” before and after our bodies … than picturing it as the “birth mark”.
      James, your last paragraph is so good that I can only say “amen”…

    • I’m a radical atheist and I think the movie (and more precisely, the theme of the movie) is brilliant.

      What does the movie have to do with infinite intelligence?

      • ^^^
        Never thought I’d hear of a hardcore atheist who liked this movie. What did you like about it?

        I loved it, but I’m not an atheist.

    • I am not a spiritualist of any kind, Christian, Buddhist or otherwise. I was able to understand this movie, not because I believe there is a higher power or anything, but because I understood what the Wachowskis were trying to say. The main theme is oppression. There are themes of spirituality, but that does not mean you have to be a spiritualist to get them. I think you’re selling people short here. There will be a number of Christians who don’t like (or “get”) this movie, just as there will be a number of atheists or others that won’t like or “get” it. This is a terrific movie from a terrific bunch of talented people. Larry (Lana now after the sex change) and Andy Wachowski have achieved something great here and you’re saying that we can’t get it if we don’t believe in “god”? People aren’t that empty…

  9. For everyone arguing about this movie being about reincarnation, I really didn’t take that message from it at all. Whilst I think it hinted at the idea (probably to dumb it down for the masses) I think the message it was trying to send out, was that it’s not “souls” that live on, but actions, ideas… love, hate, justice, injustice. We have to choose which side we want to reflect in our singular lives, and the choices we make will echo throughout time and inspire those that follow us, even if in the most simple ways. You don’t need to be “spiritual” to get that concept (I’d probably classify myself (if pushed) as a scientific-pantheist or atheist, and this film touched me and made me appreciate the significance of the choices we make in our lives. Even if we don’t live on ourselves, our impact on the universe we briefly lived in shall.

    As for the movie itself, I’m writing this after just watching it. Whilst it was long – it flew past and I can’t wait to go see it again, this time with the chance to spot details I’d previous missed.

    If you’re a thinker, spiritual, atheist or otherwise, this is a movie that if you have a heart, have ever been in love, ever battled with making the right choices in life, or had to deal with ignorance or “doing what’s expected” (even when it’s wrong)… then you should get something from this film.

    It’s not particularly deep really, it’s just a beautiful film sending the simple message that our actions define us and that emotions are a force that shape our world.

    Watch it, make up your own mind. I give it 5 stars because I found the experience beautifully human.

    • Sadly, the movie has been so ignored.

    • I completely agree

  10. My best film of 2012, hands down. Beating out Django, TDKR and Moonrise Kingdom among other beloved contenders of mine.

  11. The most bigoted, ignorant, biased (to what?) and most completely pointless film I have ever seen.

  12. It was the worst piece of new age clap trap that I have seen since ” Oblivion.Elisium “. The plot made no sense if there was one. The sex scene hurt my back and the fighting scenes were almost funny.

  13. It was the greatest movie since ” Casablanca”

  14. I thought I had been politically corrected. My ” Casablanca” blurb was satire. As W.C. Fields said, ” Satire is a form of humor which isn`t funny.”

  15. Damn, screenrant gave this 4.5??? I went to this with 5 other people and 2/3rd through all but one of us was bored. it may of had spirit and deeper meaning but it dragged on so long, and one of the storylines had neanderthal like characters that you couldn’t even understand what they were saying

  16. I just saw the movie last night on HBO, and I have to say imo, it is very thought provoking and original in the way it presents its stories. It can be overwhelming in terms of characters and stories that one needs to keep track (much like Games of Thrones in that regard), but if you have the patience and give it the attention it deserves, it can leave you thinking about alot of aspects of life…….funny thing is that before I saw it on cable, I did not hear much about this movie during its theatrical release.
    If you like movies that are thought provoking, it is definitely worth a try (just be patient for the first hour, while the six stories start to unfold)…….I would agree with the rating that Kofi gave it.

  17. ^^^
    Glad you liked it.