Film Review: Cloud Atlas (2012)

Have you ever felt that you are connected to other people by some unknown force?

Well, this 2012 film, based on David Mitchell’s 2004 novel, sets out to address just that. Taking the viewer through six different stories told by different characters in locations ranging from a futuristic Seoul to the Scottish Highlands and in genres from historical to sci-fi, this vast blockbuster boasts an ensemble cast led by Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Jim Broadbent.

Billed as “the first German blockbuster”, the film is a vast romp through different locations and times, from the 18th century until several thousand years in the future, taking in themes from corruption to oppression on the way. The audience sees the slave trade in the South Pacific, orchestral composition in Edinburgh and revolutions in futuristic South Korea, with main characters ranging from elderly publishers to sassy journalists. All of these weave together to form the complex net of plot and characters which form the colourful madness which is the many stories of Cloud Atlas.

But one of the main points of the film is its unique casting system, which saw the main cast members play up to six characters – one in each story. While this provides a certain degree of humour (some of the white actors look very strange in makeup as Korean characters) it also continues the main premise of the story: that each of the characters are all reincarnated into other characters in other stories throughout the film.

It is an unusual film – that much cannot be denied – but its complexity and the links between the stories are what makes it entertaining to watch. Some of the crucial twists and plot points of the novel have been missed out for the sake of Hollywood simplicity, and some of the larger-scale scenes are just absurd. Somewhat ironically, it is the less ambitious sections – that is, those set in the 20th and 21st centuries – which are more effective. On the whole, though, this is an entertaining and impressive production with great acting talent and interesting characterisation – although perhaps the sum of its parts is more impressive than its whole.