FlixChatter Review: Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas is one of those films that transcends film genres — it’s a drama, sci-fi, comedy, thriller, all wrapped into one. Based on David Mitchell’s 2004 novel, the film follows six nested stories of six characters across time and space, and explores how the characters’ lives are connected and somehow influence each other in past, present and future.

Just how are they connected exactly? Well, that’s for the viewers to find out and watching this film is like trying to put together a giant puzzle, whilst treated to a spectacular, often dizzying array of scenarios spanning hundreds of years, from the 1800s all the way to 2144.

The first character we meet, Adam Ewing, is a lawyer who’s shipwrecked in an island in the Pacific Ocean near New Zealand. In the story he ends up discovering the the enslavement of the Moriori tribe and also meeting a doctor named Henry Goose. The next character in the following story, a 1930 composer Robert Frobisher, discovers Ewing’s account as a diary on a bookshelf at the house of an aging composer he’s working for. On and on the story goes, alternating from one to the next every 10-15 minutes or so.

What’s most amusing about this film is that the main actors play multiple characters across various stories and time periods, so in one scene we see Tom Hanks in a period Victorian-era clothing to a scientist in the 1970s, to a tribesman in post-apocalyptic Hawaii. For the most part, they did a good job with the makeup work, transforming the actors across multiple races, even gender! Sometimes I got so caught up in the different look of the actors that take me out of the story, for example, young British actor Jim Sturgess made up to look like a Korean man Hae-Joo Im in the segment involving a genetically-engineered fabricant Somni-451 set in a totalitarian futuristic society, and also Hugo Weaving as a devil leprechaun haunting Hanks’ character and also the scary female Nurse Noakes who hounds Jim Broadbent‘s character a in a nursing home. It’s also odd seeing Korean actress Doona Bae as a freckled, red-headed Caucasian woman, complete with blue contact lenses! The make up of Halle Berry as a blue-eyed Jewish woman is much more seamless though.

The first thing that comes to mind as soon as I leave the theater is that it was quite a ‘discombobulating’ experience. I have to admit that it was quite tough to follow the story as it keeps changing from one to the next before I could even figure out what’s going on. It didn’t help matters that Halle Berry and Tom Hanks in the post-apocalyptic Hawaii segment are utterly incomprehensible. I kept turning to my friend next to me in frustration, just what the heck are those people saying??!

I read that the novel was quite well-received by critics who deemed that Mitchell managed to successfully interweave its six stories. I think it may take me multiple viewings for me to say whether the movie achieves that, though I wouldn’t call it a mess like some critics do. I wish it was more emotionally engaging though. I mean, the message against prejudice, slavery, corporate greed, etc. aren’t exactly subtle, but because the movie jumps from one to the next relatively fast, I wasn’t as invested in the characters as I otherwise would.

Overall, there are a lot to appreciate in this film, most notably the visual spectacle and the performances of most of the actors. The stand-outs for me are Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, and the Wachowskis’ ‘muse’ Hugo Weaving. My favorite segment is the love story set in the futuristic society Neo Seoul. It has a Blade Runner-esque feel to it, and the chase sequences are spectacular! I’m certainly glad I saw it on the big screen and from the visual effects standpoint, it actually seems like it had a bigger budget than $102 million (Just a little trivia: according to Wikipedia, this movie was actually funded by independent sources, making it the most expensive independent film ever).

Final Thoughts: I think this is a valiant effort by the Wachowski Siblings (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run). There’s definitely an epic feel to it and given how challenging the material is, I think they did a pretty darn good job. In fact, now that the movie’s sat with me for about a week and I’ve read a bit more about the story, I actually like it a bit better. Oh and do stay for the end credits as they show which actors plays which roles, see if you could recognize every single one of them. I don’t know how this film would fare come award season but it should at least nab Best Makeup nomination!



Well, that’s my take on Cloud Atlas. What do YOU think of it?

74 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: Cloud Atlas

  1. LOL… “Hugo Weaving as a devil leprechaun” Funny stuff, Ruth!

    I’m with you. I wont hate on it, it was way too ambitious. And along the way there were plenty of entertaining moments to make it enjoyable.

    But it was discombobulated (Nice word). And I didnt get as emotionally involved as I would have liked to, either. I’ll also agree that it was annoying as hell to try to figure out Hanks/Berry-Speak in the post apocalyptic segment. Ugh.

    Great review, I’m in total agreement with you here. 😀

    1. Ahah, I wasn’t trying to be funny Fogs, wasn’t he satan who’s made to look like a leprechaun??

      I think critics are way too harsh on this one, or just way off as usual. I think even with the rather challenging plot, it was still entertaining and I wasn’t bored despite the almost 3-hrs running time. Glad I wasn’t the only one frustrated w/ Hanks/Berry’s dialog in post-apocalyptic Hawaii, I almost wish there was subtitles in that segment!

      Glad we’re in agreement here, man!

  2. Four out of five stars is what I initially rate it. Here’s the thing, though. I keep revisiting scenes and characters in my mind, which is something associated with something I feel strongly about, whether I love or hate it. I think subsequent viewings will be needed to settle those thoughts. Fine review, Ruth.

    1. Yeah I feel the same way Michael, but in the end I went with how I feel today after mulling it over for a week. I think it’s a worthy effort and it was enjoyable, even if it’s not exactly a perfect film. Curious to hear what you’d settle with after subsequent viewing. I might watch it again in the next 2 weeks as my hubby hasn’t seen it yet.

  3. Years ago, I came up with an idea to do a film where the entire cast played genders and/or races different than their own. Just like everything, someone beat me to it! Oh well, this film is one that I really want to see. I can’t imagine that it’s for everyone, but I hope it does well because it’s so original.

    1. Hey, I think you should still pursue it Jamie. I’m curious to hear more about your story. I think people should still see this film as there’s nothing else like it right now at the movies.

  4. Glad you liked this. I did as well. I put a vid up on my review that has the directors introducing the film, and, yes, they confirm the film was independently funded.

    I liked the film far more a day or so after I let my thoughts on it settle. Great review here!

    1. Ah, it seems that we both also waited a bit before reviewing it. I was taking a break from writing review last week but I’m glad I let it ‘simmer’ if you will, because sometimes your opinion changes from your initial reaction.

    1. Well if you like complex, intertwined stories, this is definitely for you Stephanie. I think those two actors are terrific here, but then again they always are.

  5. Solid review Ruth. I’ve been thinking on this movie a good deal since seeing it. I even went back and re-read my review to see if I felt the same way. Unfortunately I do. I don’t discount the things the film does right. But there are several issues I had with it that I just can’t shake.

    1. Hey that’s fine Keith, to each their own. I was actually thinking to give it a 3 or 3.5 but the more I think about it the more I actually like it and I really didn’t think it was a mess at all. There are issues with it for sure, but not a deal breaker by any means.

  6. Haven’t seen this yet but I love the fact that this is a big-budgeted movie that I know very little about. Tried to read more about it but I’ve decided to just let everything unravel at the cinemas.

    p/s: can’t wait for your Skyfall review. Have you seen it yet?

    1. I actually had been curious about this movie for a while, I just haven’t got time to read the books, not sure that I would.

      Skyfall hasn’t opened here yet 😦 It’s out on Nov 9 in the US.

  7. Nice review. I’m biased because the book is possibly my favorite of all time – but I loved the movie. It’s challenging, but worth it if you do the work. When I first read the book I thought it was unfilmable, but the directors made the changes they needed to and I think they pulled it off.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Bill, welcome to FC! Ah I’ve been hoping someone who have read the book would chime in. That’s cool that you think the film lives up to the book, so you reckon this is a faithful adaptation then? I’d think they’d have to alter it slightly to fit the cinematic medium.

    1. I think given the scale of the project, the ‘faults’ are inherent, but still there are a lot going for it to make it entertaining. Hope you like it Mark!

  8. it flopped big time this weekend, which doesn’t surprise me given the fact what non-existent marketing it had, and plus Halle Berry is a curse to any movie 🙂
    I think I’d like the movie, though, since I always lurv multiple stories within a film.

    1. Yeah, that’s too bad. I actually thought it’d at least top Argo since it’s been around for 3 weeks. Ahah, I’m not fond of Berry, and she’s just ok in this one compared to the rest of the cast.

      I do think you’ll love this one Dez, you like Ben Whishaw and Jim Sturgess right? They’re both great in this, oh and James D’Arcy, too!

  9. I really wanted to like this film because the trailer looked so impressive the way it spanned time and geography. Unfortunately the individuals stories were rather simple. Also I just couldn’t enjoy the way the narrative was chopped up. Every time we started to get invested in one of the characters the storyline would jump to a different era. It seemed as if it changed stories every 5 minutes. I would’ve much preferred the traditional way the stories were arranged in the original book. Glad you enjoyed it though.

    1. I hear ya Mark. The stories are indeed simple and it’s not like we’ve never seen such stories being presented before. But I do like the style of the narration even if it was confusing at times. I did have issues with the fast-jumping narratives, but the more it sits with me, I appreciate it more. Roger Ebert said in his blog that the filmmakers broke free from the confines of traditional narration, and with that surely comes some risks.

  10. At this point in time, I find the reviews that critics write have no influence on my outcomes of films. They are just so off target, and it’s reading reviews like yours for this film that inspire me to want to watch it. I think you really laid out just how layered this film really is. Films like that always tend to get criticisms from the critics, but if they can keep you interested, that’s what matters. Looking forward to seeing it!

    1. Hi Raul! Yeah, I don’t trust critics that much either. In this one, I actually saw it before the critics’ reviews were released, but it wouldn’t dissuade me from seeing it otherwise. I’m curious to hear your thoughts, man.

  11. Excellent review, Ruth! The more I think about this film, the better it gets. I’ll be seeing it again hopefully soon, but I’d initially give it 5/5. Though it’s quite ambitious and, at times, obvious, I loved it. Right now, it’s very close to becoming my favorite film of the year.

    1. Hey, I think we’re in the same camp!! Yeah I’m glad I waited to review this until a week later. I haven’t thought about whether this will end up in my top 5 of the year or not, I guess I have to see The Hobbit, Les Miserables and Skyfall first 🙂

  12. I’m so glad you enjoyed it and encourage you to see my thoughts on the film as well. The future scene with Tom Hanks and Halle Berry was extremely difficult to even read in the book so I was thankful that it was a little easier to understand on its transition to the screen. I guess I had an advantage since I had read about half the book before seeing the movie. I think the message of the movie is of course its greatest gift to cinema, but I understand how others would be disappointed in the endings of each individual story.

    1. Oh that’s interesting insight about the Hanks/Berry segment that it’s also hard to discern in the book. Hmmm, I guess the problem again is inherent in the adaptation. So do you like the book or the movie better Max?

  13. Ted S.

    As I mentioned earlier, I’ll give this one a rent. It sounds a lot like The Fountain where it has great premise and very ambitious but it’s hard to translate what was written on the book or screenplay to the screen.

    1. Actually Ted, it looks glorious on the big screen. I wouldn’t dismiss it too quickly just because of critics. Often times I disagree w/ them anyway.

      1. Ted S.

        Oh no I hardly read what the critics says anymore these days, I’ll see it but I don’t want to see it in theater because it’s too long and lately some of the audiences really bug me with talking and checking text on their phones. At home I can pause it and go to the bathroom and no annoying people. I would consider seeing it in theater if it’s shown on IMAX but apparently only selected IMAX theaters get to show it.

  14. I didn’t really want to see this, but reading your review & some of the comments, I’ve changed my mind. If only to see Hugh Grant as a cannibal. What are the chances of that happening again…also this strikes me as one of those films that needs to be seen in a proper cinema.

    1. Hey, I’m glad I was able to persuade you 🙂 Hugh Grant as a cannibal is quite a stretch for an actor known for his floppy hair and stuttering demeanor, ahah, but the makeup is half of the ‘performance’ really. Yes this should be seen on the big screen, doll. Let me know what you think!

  15. Hope you are all safe from Hurricane Sandy and taking precautions. As for Cloud Atlas I love the people producing it so Halle Berry won’t deter me as I am with Hugh Grant the whole way and Hugo and Tom too.

    1. Hi Stella, yes I’m thinking of those in the path of hurricane Sandy… we are quite far from it fortunately. I think the British actors here are all wonderful.

    1. It’s complicated but you should be able to get the gist of the story, Diana, plus there are a lot to appreciate in terms of acting, cinematography, etc. It’s such a unique film.

  16. Not sure yet if I want to see this. It certainly looks about as epic as it gets but the trailers are almost too much for me to take ahah. glad you liked the movie Ruth!

  17. Great review! I have to say I’m not that interested in seeing it, this and Life of Pi just seems like a lot of pretty images with a very little substance. I may check it on DVD, though.

    1. Actually this one is not just style over substance but I could see how people might get that impression. The visuals are amazing to look at on the big screen, Sati.

  18. I also enjoyed the Neo Soul storyline very much. it was more compelling than say Broadbent’s nursing home storyline, even though that one has one of the better climaxes. Great review Ruth!!!

    1. Hi Mitch! I didn’t really care for the nursing home one, I mean it’s funny but it’s just not as intriguing. I wish they didn’t have full frontal nudity on the Neo Seoul one though, yeah I know I’m kinda a stickler about it, but it’s just so unnecessary!

  19. I really did want to like this movie; the preview was gorgeous and I’d heard such great things about the book. But aside from the uneven editing and slow pacing, I thought the makeup was terrible, and so distracting, and quite frankly offensive. There is only ONE real Asian actor in Neo-Seoul, and the rest are all in yellowface? It’s just sad to see, since leading roles in so many other movies are whitewashed and taken from Asian actors. Apparently the directors wanted to beat us over the head with the fact that these are the same people reincarnated… which, yes, we get that already (thank you, magic birthmark!). Casting the same people in every story line – both as the main characters or as background filler – isn’t necessary, and I think it actually over-simplifies the idea behind the story, to the movie’s detriment.

    1. Hi there. I understand your concern though I can’t agree with you that it’s offensive. I mean, I’m from South East Asia and I think there are actually more Asian people represented in the film in that Neo-Seoul segment. All the girls playing the cloned servers are played by East Asian actresses. Is it necessary to cast the same actors in various roles? Maybe not, but that’s an artistic choice and I think it adds to the level of amusement of the film. I don’t see it as a detriment at all. But you are entitled to your opinion and thank you for being honest about it and doing so in a respectful manner.

    1. Thanks! Someone just told me to read the book but I don’t think I’ll ever get to it. What?? This doesn’t get out ’til March over there?? That’s crazy! Well at least you’ve got Skyfall weeks before we do.

  20. Great review, Ruth. I wasn’t terribly interested in seeing this, but now you’ve got me curious. I was worried it might be too ambitious for its own good but it does sound awfully intriguing.

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  23. I found the movie challenging in some ways and did not think it completely lived up to its ambition, but like others here, I enjoyed it and appreciated its ambition. So many movies are completely forgettable, it is refreshing to find one that makes you think even after it is over.

    1. Ahah, well I’m glad to hear!! 😀 I’ve been wanting to rewatch this with my hubby as he hasn’t seen it yet, I’m curious if I’d like it more or less.

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