It took three directors, a $100 million budget and a vast array of wigs and false noses to bring this supposedly ‘unfilmable’ book to life, and in this instance the effort doesn’t seem worth it. Cloud Atlas was always going to be an ambitious project, weaving together six stories from six different time periods, places and worlds and asking the unanswerable in an exploration of how we are all connected, in a karma esque, reincarnation way. In an attempt to create this connection the film reuses the same actors throughout. The six stories are all incredibly different and range from Jim Broadbent’s old folks comedy to a Tron like sci fi drama, resulting in constant switches of genre which, for a film with an already confusing central idea, doesn’t help the matter. Where the book feels more like a collection of short stories, the film cuts between stories so often that watching it you don’t know whether you are coming or going, and the constant recycling of a handful of actors meant that I spent more time playing ‘where’s Hugh Grant now?’ than pondering the supposedly existential nature of the story.
Ben Wishaw’s performance is an obvious upside to this film and his turn as a homosexual composer in the 1930s is one of the most compelling parts of it, one that you regret the constant veering away from. But the real stars of this film are the cinematographers, John Toll and Frank Griebe, as it is the visuals in the film that make it worth the (very long) watch. Certainly the film works best as a visual experience due to the variety of settings and characters involved and the sheer ambition of the spectacle. However, the main problem with Cloud Atlas is that the central premise of the film lies in its idea of connectivity and although this certainly makes the film intriguing, it is overwhelmingly confusing, searching hopelessly for deeper meaning to no avail. The result is that this visual spectacle gets lost as you desperately try to piece together some sense from the many strands of narrative.