They say there are only seven stories in the world. I can’t remember who ‘they’ are, or what the stories are, so on a less philosophical note I saw “Cloud Atlas” today. I’d been bracing myself a little for a bloated, worthy and above all LONG film based on the critically lauded novel of the same name by David Mitchell (not the one off TV). I’d only really heard criticism for it though, so I was pleased when I rather enjoyed it. At least I think I did, because “Cloud Atlas” is not like any film I’ve seen before.
The tangle of storylines tells tales set in six time periods spanning hundreds of years. The intriguing hook is that the cast keep cropping up in various guises in most of these stories with varying characters, birthmarks, ages, genders(!) and distracting different ethnicities. So we come to the main criticism I’d heard of the film; having Halle Berry white-up, Hugo Weaving get his Mrs Doubtfire on, Korean Doona Bae go Western while Jim Sturgess, Hugh Grant and Hugo Weaving get new Asian persuasions as space-Koreans… it’s all a bit distracting at times. Still, you can’t say they are being typecast. I’ve only seen Hugh Grant as a bumbling English fop, I didn’t really expect to see him as a Korean, I honestly didn’t.
The different stories varied in watchability too, with Jim Broadbent’s OAP caper being a jarring drag on the action, while the Donna Bae & Jim Sturgess story in the future looked incredible and felt like something fresh and original. Of course I think any one of the plots in isolation didn’t have a lot to them aside from some creditable performances, but you’d never have time for six fully-formed movies.
I will say the run-time seemed to stretch much further than I expected – a side-effect of the regular switches between stories. They aren’t one after the other, they are skipped between like a channel surfer. The links between them are occasionally tenuous (particularly between Jim in 2012 and Doona in 2144), and it’s a bit of a muddle what the theme is, other than a massive dose of deja vu. If I had to draw parallels to anything though, maybe Lost would be a good place to start with its interweaving backstories, though they all tied up to a common place and time.
Acting-wise it’s difficult to get a fix as each individual character didn’t get a lot of screentime. However Tom Hanks put in a very Hanksy performance, particularly in post-apocalyptic tribesman in the future. Hollywood toxic asset Halle Berry did well in that storyline too, as a futuristic visitor, and also in her 70’s role as a plucky investigative journalist. Jim Sturgess and Ben Whishaw were great in their main storylines, as well as being devilishly handsome. Finally Doona Bae really stole the show for her futuristic action thriller, totally compelling.
This film isn’t for everyone – it’s not particularly difficult to deal with each piece you are presented with, and most of the linkages between stories are signposted. But it’s a long film and it’s easy to feel it’s not really tying up, but each individual story is finished by the end (for better or worse). For me it was a unique experience, and you should see it without much thought of what the critics said. Plus you see Ben Whishaw’s bum.