Cloud Atlas

Age Restriction:
Studio: Cloud Atlas Productions, X-Filme Creative Pool, Anarchos Pictures
Running Time: 172 min

Verdict: 3 / 5

I’ll admit it’s exciting to watch great filmmakers like Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer take on a film so epic it borders on the impossible. But it’s bitterly disappointing to see them fail. Cloud Atlas, which is based on David Mitchell’s, apparently unfilmable, 2004 novel of the same name, alternates (sometimes incomprehensibly) between six stories that range across place and time – some set in the past, some in the present and some in the future. Essentially the six stories have six different genres, with a handful of actors playing multiple roles, in a film so large it requires a three hour running time. The six stories are held together by a recurring inexplicable birthmark and themes of friendship, liberation and the belief that we are all interconnected. Collectively they work as entertainment, but dissect each story and you’ll discover that none of them are as powerful on their own. And that’s where the trouble comes in. Once the gimmick fades, Cloud Atlas, although visually appealing, is unsatisfactory.

cloud atlas review

“Composing is a crusade. Sometimes you slay the dragon. Sometime it slays you,” explains one of the characters. These are three lines that should have been taken to heart while developing Cloud Atlas. Across the three hours actors Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, James D’Arcy, Hugh Grant, Doona Bae and Keith David appear on screen as different characters hidden under pounds of makeup and prosthetics. In one story Hugh Grant might appear as an old Englishman, but in another, after some manipulation to his eyes, he plays a Chinese pimp. The idea is interesting at first, but you’ll soon find yourself playing spot the actor or peakaboo, instead of focusing on the story at hand. It’s honestly distracting and after just an hour through I found myself struggling to take it all seriously.


Defining what Cloud Atlas is about, is nearly as hard as explaining what happens. The six stories unfold as:

The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing (South Pacific Ocean) – In the 19th century, a notary traveling abroad receives treatment from a doctor and befriends a slave.

Letters from Zedelghem (Cambridge, England and Edinburgh, Scotland) – In the 30s, a penniless composer flees after he is caught spending a night with his male lover. He musters up a plan to meet a legendary composer and become his apprentice.

Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery (San Francisco, California) – In the 70s, a frustrated journalist investigates a nuclear power company. All her leads are killed off one by one and the company soon comes after her.

The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish (London, England and Edinburgh, Scotland) – In the present day, a publisher escapes a group of gangsters who come collecting their pay. His brother offers him a solution and sends him off to check into a retirement home. The following morning when he tries to check out he realizes that he has been tricked by his brother, who is punishing him for sleeping with his wife.

An Orison of Sonmi~451 (Neo Seoul, Korea and Hawaii) – In the future, a clone waitress, who exists only to serve, discovers freewill and a greater destiny.

Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After (Hawaii, dated 106 winters after the Fall) – In 2321, a tribesman receives a visit from a superior race of humans that some worship as gods.


Channel-hopping between the different stories grows increasingly annoying, especially when the editing is used to build suspense – cutting in the middle of a big reveal. Weaving multiple storylines together is no easy feat, but it all seems willy-nilly here. One moment we’re looking at Tom Hanks in the future and the next we see Tom Hanks in the 70s. Those who struggle with incoherent storytelling of Quentin Tarantino will be completely lost at sea here.

Look closely and you’ll notice that there are brief moments of brilliance in Cloud Atlas. The acting is exceptional and some of the visuals are breathtaking. It’s not a complete failure, some might even find it enjoyable, but it certainly is a far stretch from being brilliant. Those expecting Cloud Atlas to be anything remotely transcendent, like the Matrix, will be sorely disappointed.

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Comments 2

  1. Mitchellios says:

    I personally feel like the main reason a lot of people wont like this movie is because they are too used to being spoon fed storylines in their highchairs. If you are one of those kinds of people, you will probably spend most of your time fustrating your storytelling parents (Wachowski and Tykwer) by spitting it back either all over your baby blue singlet or have it dribble down your chin. The only difference is, no one is going to scoop it back up into your mouth or make aeroplane noises to help you ‘open wide’. What this movie does amazingly RIGHT is forcing people to solve the jigsaw puzzle of the story without the help of the corner or edge pieces. It’s a rare and rewarding shock to the senses that some people wont appreciate for the same reason that hollywood gave birth to The Expendables 2. The problem about the review above is that it’s so rediculously biased (about how disappointed they felt) that the author couldn’t even assume that people might find it amazing. It’s an epic three hour journey through time, explaining the complexities of a theoretical (who we are and why we are here) story and I feel like a lot of people are going to underestimate how interesting the whole film is. And the fact that this movie was compared to The Matrix is like saying “The Smurfs was alright, but its lack of witty monologues makes it no Bridget Jones’ Diary”.. I can’t stress enough how much Cloud Atlas and The Matrix have barely anything in common apart from the idea that “life isn’t always as we understand it to be”.

    It blows my mind even harder as I re-read the first paragraph of this review how it mentions that each story can’t stand alone and I can’t help but feel like he missed the point completely. It’s the equivilant of saying, “I had problems eating my chinese takeaway when I decided to attempt to finish my meal with only one chopstick”. Without ruining the plot too much, the stories need eachother for everything to be explained.

    I recommend watching the movie a second time Jarrod. You might just learn to appreciate the harmony in which each story belongs with eachother.

    • Lol. That is by far the funniest reply I’ve ever gotten from a review. Well done.

      However, my thoughts on Cloud Atlas remain the same – even after two more viewings. I think most people enjoyed this film simply because of its scale. I also can’t help but think that the material might have been better in the hands of someone like Spielberg or even Terrence Malick. I also didn’t directly compare The Matrix to Cloud Atlas. Instead I mentioned that those expecting as mind-blowing or revolutionary will be disappointed – as I was.

      I never said Cloud Atlas was a bad movie. It’s just not as great as everyone thinks it is. I liked it to a degree. But I’ll never own it on DVD or Blu Ray. Movie reviews are subjective – and after a few discussions with friends and fellow critics we’ve all reached the same conclusions about Cloud Atlas. Its over-hyped. I really wanted it to be a great film, but I was sorely disappointed. There are moments of greatness, but most of it is hidden between dull pretentious film-making.

      There are many other critics that agree with you. We can agree to disagree can’t we?

      Lastly, I’m the last one who likes being spoon fed storylines. I love deep intellectual film-making. I didn’t not like Cloud Atlas because I’m lazy, but rather because I felt they were.

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