Cloud Atlas Review: The Many Faces of Tom Hanks

For the Wachoski brothers, it may be that lightning only strikes once.  Many directors have felt this sting before, and between the Matrix sequels, Speed Racer and now Cloud Atlas, it is beginning to seem more and more like The first Matrix may be the Sixth Sense of the brothers’ careers.  To be fair, none of those aforementioned disappointments are anywhere near the level of cinematic disaster as The Happening or The Last Airbender, but they still are evidence of a creative mind (or minds) reaching its peak too early.

Let me back up.  I really wanted to like this movie.  I love bold film making, and the amount invested into the project by Warner Brothers gave the impression of the studio having immense confidence in the movie’s quality despite it’s clear un-marketability.  The premise’s parallels with Darren Arronofsky’s The Fountain (Another highly philosophical story which spanned the relationships of several characters over a number of different time periods) made me think that, to have had $100 million spent on it, it must avoid the same audience-alienating faults of that film.  I managed to fully avoid reading any sort of review of Cloud Atlas before I saw it tonight, but as I go back through the ones I’ve seen posted as well as Rotten Tomatoes and the like, I quite bring myself to go against the film’s overall lukewarm critical reception.  Cloud Atlas features some wonderful performances and a set of sub-plots that are intriguing on their own, but the overall lack of substantial connection between the six central stories rob it of most of the depth it seems to be shooting for.

The Plot:

Oh boy, where to begin.  Cloud Atlas is told between six different eras, each weaving in and out of each other throughout the entirety of the film.  We rapidly jump from between mid 1800s Oceana, 1930s Scotland, 1973 America, 2012 London, 22nd century Seoul and an undefined post-apocalyptic wasteland.  Each story involves characters played by different assortments of the 11 top-billed actors and a variety of vastly different story lines linked by themes of love, responsibility and the embodiment of the film’s tagline, “Everything is Connected”.  

Going through the plot of each of the six parts would be too much for one review, so I’m just going to dive straight into the Players section.

The Players:

As I said above, there are some great performances here that really served to lift the movie up from it’s disjointedness.  Unfortunately, it’s difficult to isolate these performances since every character plays 5-6 different roles over the course of the movie.  I didn’t even realize the extent of this until I visited the movie’s IMDb page and read through the list of each actor or actress and the characters they play.  Often times the actor or actress appears under heavy makeup or, several times, in varying degrees of effective cross-dressing that many viewers might notice while watching without quite identifying who is who.  To be perfectly honest, this is one of the movie’s weaker points from my perspective as it comes across as very gimmicky a lot of the time and gives the movie the feel of a seriously-toned Monty Python movie.  There are a great deal of characters which feel as if to give they were included to give the audience another chance to say “hey, it’s that guy again”, but simply having the actors play parts from different time periods isn’t enough to justify those time periods being connected.

That being said, there were a few individual characters that really stood out for me.  Jim Broadbent as Timothy Cavendish provided some great levity in his “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”-resembling subplot, even if that entire story line was likely the most weakly linked to the rest of the film.  Jim Sturgess is also memorable as  Hae-Joo Chang, respectively, a resistance fighter and rescuer of Doona Bae’s Sonmi-451 who drives some of the most exciting action sequences of the film.  For me though, it was really Ben Whishaw (Bright Star) who stole the show as Robert Frobisher, a composer in the 1930s who’s efforts to work with renown composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Also Broadbent) results in the composition of the titular Cloud Atlas sextet as well as Frobisher’s eventual suicide.  Frobisher’s character was by far the most moving and engrossing from my point, and of all six story lines I felt like his would have worked best as it’s own film.

Quick Notes:

– I absolutely love Hanks, but his face was just too recognizable here to really allow him to sink into any of his roles here (especially considering how terrible his British accent was in the 2012 story line)

– Keith David is still a badass

– Hugh Grant just plain and simply didn’t have to be in this movie

Cloud Atlas offers the first time we’ve gotten to see Hugo Weaving in drag since The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

– New Seoul looks GORGEOUS

– The ridiculous language spoken in the post-apocalyptic story line made it impossible for me to take any of the dialogue seriously

The Verdict:  7.0/10  Good

Cloud Atlas is a rare example of a movie who’s individual components are stronger than the sum of its parts.  One of the biggest faults in the marketing was that we never really were given any concrete understanding as to how the separate stories were linked together, and the film itself did very little to assuage that issue.  There are plenty of small details that call back to a previous story line (a recurring birthmark, the Cloud Atlas Sextet, and one character’s journal to name a few), but none of those small details do anything to link the events of one story with any other and instead of an elaborate web of cause and effect we end up with a sort of six-degrees-of-separation between stories.  Bottom line, the acting, dialogue and beautiful special effects make Cloud Atlas worth the price of admission but in the end it just left me with a resounding feeling of “So what?”

Other Reviews:

The Daily Rich – N/a

Dan the Man Movie Reviews – 8.0/10

Fast Film Reviews – 2/5

About r361n4

I'm a student at the University of Washington Majoring Business. I've always loved movies and my goal is to work on the financial side of the film industry. Until then though, I figure I'll spare my friends from my opinions and shout them from a digital mountaintop for anyone who's interested. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and nobody blogs about it, does it really happen?
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16 Responses to Cloud Atlas Review: The Many Faces of Tom Hanks

  1. Mark Hobin says:

    You’re so right about the lack of depth. I feel that the six stories were chopped up and presented in parts just to disguise the fact that the individual stories were rather pedestrian. Each one seemed to even copy another (better) film: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Blade Runner, Amistad,, etc.

    • r361n4 says:

      I didn’t even think about Amistad, Blade runner might be a wee bit of a stretch but I see what you mean. It definitely felt like a collection of movies we’d essentially seen before, but so… pretty…

    • That for me seemed to be main point of the idea. That each story was a familiar and overly typical example of it’s genre. So you can see how every genre is really just the same story. A chase scene is the climax of a comedy and a sci fi movie. One makes you laugh and the other makes you thrilled. What happens when the comedic lead (publisher) is the antagonist (composer). What happens when the scifi lead is the comic relief (Mexican lady). It was just the same character showing up again.

      The story is very much about storytelling, even if the “in movie” explanation was reincarnation or re-emergence of characteristics

  2. CMrok93 says:

    Nice review Andy. Watching this cast go to town on all of these roles is a great sight to see, as well as how all of the stories come together in a smart, but slight way. It’s a good film that definitely kept me watching from start-to-finish, even if I do think it’s not as much of a cinematic masterpiece as people have made it out to be.

    • r361n4 says:

      Thanks, I think my overall opinion would be that I liked each part well enough individually but it didn’t feel like they needed to be all together in the same movie.

  3. Each of the main characters was reading the book, letters or in one case watching the movie of the previous time period’s events. Unknowingly, they were setting in motion events in the future that they could never know they were inspiring.

    • Mark Hobin says:

      Did you read the book? I am not doubting what you’re saying. It’s just that this wasn’t obvious from watching the film. Maybe if it had been told in order.

    • r361n4 says:

      I did see all of those things and I understand the concept of reincarnation that they were trying to push, but what confused me was the conflicting directions of what made someone the reincarnation of another. Obviously the comet birthmark was supposed to be one of the linking factors, but that would counterract the idea that the actors played their own incarnations throughout the film. And if the actors didn’t play their own incarnations than what was the real sense in having them play a part in every time line?

  4. Great review 🙂 Looking forward to watching this one and finding out where exactly do I stand. Will I love it or hate it?

    • r361n4 says:

      I’m interested to hear, I think most of the people who hate it do so because the movie does act like it is something more significant than it has the competency to be, but I didn’t hate it because of that. It shot high and landed in the middle, which is disappointing but not so much that I’d totally avoid it. Let me know what you think 🙂

  5. Tippi says:

    Yes yes yes! I agree with so many of your points. That post-apocalyptic pidgin was RIDICULOUS, and Tom Hanks really couldn’t pull it off (that, or the bizarre doctor in 1850; like you said, he’s too “Tom Hanks”). Frobisher’s story was so dreamy and deeply effective, I was sad to see it cut away every time. And the multiple casting was so pointless! Aside from a couple of instances where characters played almost exact replicas of their former selves (Hugo Weaving keeping the lovers apart, e.g.) it usually didn’t make any sense, and the horrible execution of it was so distracting.

    • r361n4 says:

      It just felt like they thought they could have the actors play vaguely similar roles (or random roles that don’t get explored at all) and convince us that there was some deep connection between them on the level of reincarnation, but for all I know that could be a fault of the book and not the screenwriters. Not having read it, I can’t say but I still feel like even if the flaws of this movie were flaws in the book, they could have been addressed better

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