Derek Winnert

Cloud Atlas­ ***½ (2012, Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon, Ben Whishaw, Jim Sturgess) – Movie Review


‘Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb we are bound to others.’

Some big guns come out firing on as many cylinders as they know how to access in order to turn Lancashire-born writer David Mitchell’s best-selling novel into an awesome big-screen event.


Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon (all Oscar winners) and Brit worthies Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw and Jim Sturgess star, while siblings Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Lola, Perfume) are writer-directors. Impressed? You should be.

Epic’s the only word for it. At just under three hours, and spanning five centuries and telling six stories that are actually a single story unfolding in separate timelines, with the cast in multiple roles as characters meet and reunite from one life to the next, epic it surely is. And likeable it is too. It’s like a new friendship or love affair, it takes a little while to warm up, but just let it all wash over you, succumb to it, and you’ll enjoy the ride and your life may be enriched by it.


In one sense it may be a lot of crazy hippy nonsense, a hangover from a drug-inspired peace-and-love era. But weirdly it’s also a wildly ambitious, inventive, powerful and inspiring emotional rollercoaster, realised with the greatest craftsmanship, invention and visual flair.

As to what it’s all about, what its great secret is? Well, your guess is as good as mine. The story definitely believes in reincarnation, an afterlife, a beforelife, that we’re born and reborn, that there’s good and bad in everyone, that we can be what we choose, that we’re man and woman, straight and gay, black, white and Asian.


Bad things happen, mistakes can be rectified or repeated, freedom is at risk, but love always survives. Yeah, man! ­The creators want to access 2001 A Space Odyssey, but in many ways it seems much more like Forrest Gump, which perhaps may explain Hanks’s attraction to the piece. Admittedly that’d be a bad thing if you love 2001 and hate Gump… Still Cloud Atlas remains its own thing.


Where to start? Tom Hanks is (among many other characters) a goat herder battling his conscience over what he’s done to stay alive in the ravaged future of the 2300s. Jim Sturgess gets a stonking lot to do as an 1849 San Francisco attorney who harbours a fleeing slave on a voyage home from the Pacific Islands.


Then a lot of the running time is given over to a story of a gay composer (Ben Whishaw) who struggles to complete his musical masterwork Cloud Atlas before a reckless act catches up with him. Meanwhile, Halle Berry is a 1973 journalist who works to avert an industrial disaster, Jim Broadbent is a present-day publisher facing unjust imprisonment and Doona Bae is a genetically engineered worker who feels the forbidding awakening of human consciousness in 2144.

Cloud Atlas 2012

Those stories are the point of the film, yet not the point. We might get involved in them or not, one or two of them more than others (the ones involving Broadbent and Whishaw seem to work particularly nicely), but that’s not the point either. For, says Andy Wachowski, ‘The key is to abandon the idea that it’s six stories, it’s one.’ This makes for a ground-breaking, innovative screenplay, as clever and original in its way as Run Lola Run or The Matrix. Not as great, maybe, but nearly as brilliant.


If they haven’t quite made a masterpiece, they’d made something memorable and lasting. Some people I know hated this movie as ‘pretentious and boring nonsense’- but this time they’re just plain wrong.


The movie looks dazzling, like it cost a fortune (it did – more than $100million) and all the money’s up there on screen. And I ought to add that the actors give their ultimate best for the project, inspired no doubt by the offer no actor can refuse to show their range in multiple roles. Everyone’s grand in it, and it’s a good move for Hugh Grant, away from the dreaded romcoms. He shows his versatility as the Reverend Giles Horrox, a Hotel Heavy, Lloyd Hooks, Denholme Cavendish, Seer Rhee and the Kona Chief. Wow!

It only recouped $27 million in the US, but disaster was averted with a worldwide take of $130 million.

Tykwer is the director of Run Lola RunPerfume  and A Hologram for the King.

© Derek Winnert 2013




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