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Cloud Atlas Review - -
Cloud Atlas
Reviewed by
Damien Straker
Cloud AtlasBlu-ray Review Critically, when the narratives are formally compared as an expression of karma and reincarnation, the juxtaposition is vacuous. The technique serves only to enhance the velocity of the chase scenes, instead of a synonymous theme. No matter how lofty the ambition, this is fatal in a film addressing interconnections.

Feature 5.0
Video 9.5
Audio 9.5
Special Features 8.0
Total 6.0
Distributor: Warner
Genre: Drama/Sci-Fi
Running Time: 172 mins
Reviewer: Damien Straker
: MA15+


Cloud Atlas

Filmmakers find it attractive to be ambitious. It is a luxury of cinema, often producing an epic scale or a multilayered story, reflecting numerous threads and character. However, the separation between art and mere grandiosity is the clarity of the director's intentions through the formal control of their work. How one uses the cinematic language to express and solve a problem is the heart of great filmmaking.

Andy and Lana Wachowski are rarely short of ambition but their recent films have been bloated and undisciplined. They ended their Matrix trilogy dismally and their last film Speed Racer, made over four years ago, was a financial and critical dud. As filmmakers they lack restraint. They over-stylise their work, relying heavily on technique estranged from meaning. Their love of geek culture traps them into imitating anime, Manga and kung fu films, but without thematic, tonal or stylistic cohesion.

As people they are difficult to gauge too as they have been notorious recluses and deliberately media shy. Only recently did they lift the veil from their personal lives because they were making Cloud Atlas with a third director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run). They also opted to address a deep personal issue. Once known as Larry, Lana Wachowski transitioned from a man into a woman, following a sex change.

Transgender is fascinating in the context of the Wachowski's entire filmography. The five films they've directed have used avatars to hide the identities and motives of their central characters, or to subvert the conventional gender roles of archetypal characters. As a semi-autobiographical element in their work, it is one of the more intriguing aspects of their films.

Adapting British author David Mitchell's, Cloud Atlas takes avatars and hidden identities to extremes and reaches a new height of tedium. It is a film that is as ambitious as the Wachowski's have ever done, told over multiple timelines, with the same actors playing different characters in makeup.

But the thematic spine that adjoins all of these stories is lost in an opaque, perpetually interrupted narrative. At nearly three hours long, the film is intriguing and conceptually unique but it coasts too regularly on its own deliberate ambiguity and pretences of telling a story, without ever elucidating the cryptic details of each universe.  

The plot is a jumble of six threads that are thinly stretched and often terribly imbalanced. In 1849 a young man (Jim Sturgess) is helping a slave onboard a ship and defending him from the other crew members. On an island, a man (Tom Hanks) sees a spaceship land near his village and then a mysterious woman (Halle Berry) helps him to defend his people from barbarian warriors.

In Britain during the 1930s, Robert is a gay musician (Ben Wishaw) determined to write music with Vyvyan (Jim Broadbent), a grumpy but famous composer. He constructs a piece called The Cloud Atlas Sextet. In the 1970s a reporter (Halle Berry again) is investigating a secret report about a nuclear reactor. 2012: Jim Broadbent also plays Timothy, a publisher intimidated by a criminal who has written a book and is now threatening him. He asks his brother for help and is sent to a nursing home, overseen by an evil nurse (Hugo Weaving). In the year 2144, a cloned restaurant waitress (Doona Bae) makes a discovery about humanity in an oppressive futuristic society.

Dividing the stories between the directors has resulted in a lack of equal weight and value. Jim's story feels thinly stretched and uneventful compared to more memorable and extensive threads like the nursing home. There are striking images, like a satellite dish unfolding itself, but the smaller scope of the vintage periods reduces the visual flair. The only moderately exciting sequence is Timothy's escape plan. It outshines an emotionless future setting, derivative of Blade Runner and The Matrix, which would have been earmarked as the visual centrepiece.

Also like The Matrix, the same florid and sometimes pretentious philosophical dialogue haunts the film too. Ideas about the afterlife and people being reborn under different regimes are suffocated by overwritten lines like: "one can transcend any convention if one can conceive doing so." The dialogue touches on everything from consumerism to slavery but are these issues ever adjoined or resolved?

The intercutting, non-linear structure fails to answer this question due to the impatience of the editing, culling the rhythm and fluidity. Threads are interrupted by pointless jump cuts to other universes, never long enough to complement each other in meaning. There is also a heavy reliance on gimmicks that distracts from personal investment in the stories. What is the significance of Hugo Weaving playing not only a hitman, but a green monster in a top hat and a female nurse? Who are these characters?

Video, Audio & Special Features

Video and audio for this release by Warner is exception and could be considered reference material. The colour palette is vibrant and the images are crystal clear which is a staple of the Wachowski brothers. Audio is equally impressive thanks to the DTS-HD Master Audio track. For fans of the film, the special features are in-depth and really give you a great snapshot of the creation of this ambitious yet overtly complicated film. This release also comes with the Ultra-Violet copy which means you can play this on a variety of devices such as your PC, iPhone or some other portable device.

Final Thoughts

Critically, when the narratives are formally compared as an expression of karma and reincarnation, the juxtaposition is vacuous. The technique serves only to enhance the velocity of the chase scenes, instead of a synonymous theme. No matter how lofty the ambition, this is fatal in a film addressing interconnections.

Special Features

  • A Film Like No Other

  • Everything is Connected

  • Spaceships, Slaves & Sextets

  • The Bold Science Fiction of Cloud Atlas

  • And More!


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