Cloud Atlas: an Oscar-worthy epic or an unparalleled disaster?

Sep 10, 2012

Standing ovation for adaptation at Toronto Film Festival but some critics are left with a headache

THE highly anticipated film adaptation of David Mitchell's cult book Cloud Atlas finally premiered this weekend - but amid Oscar predictions and standing ovations, several critics were left unimpressed.
With a reported $100m budget, Cloud Atlas is said to be the most expensive indie film ever made and with a star-studded cast, including Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant and Halle Berry, it is tipped to be a box office hit.
Co-directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski, the siblings behind The Matrix trilogy, and Tom Tykwer, of Run Lola Run fame, Cloud Atlas has been dubbed "the most ambitious film ever made".
Fans have previously warned that a film adaptation would be difficult, if not impossible, as Mitchell interweaves six main storylines and multiple characters into an overall plot that takes place over 1,000 years.
Introducing the film at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday night, Lana Wachowski admitted: "The movie speaks a lot about human courage, and the producers obviously had a lot of courage, or stupidness, to get this thing produced."
As the closing credits rolled, the film received a lengthy standing ovation, while many raved about the film's Oscar chances. But critics have since filed a mixed bag of reviews.
Variety described it as "an intense three-hour mental workout rewarded with a big emotional payoff", while the New York Times said it was sure to be "a force to be reckoned with in the coming months".
The Guardian praised the way the three directors had re-arranged the chronology of the book. "It's a daring shuffle, but it works. By zipping back and forth across the timeline they're emphasising Mitchell's original message – that the human experience is essentially universal across the ages."
But overall, The Guardian gave the film just two stars, saying that it "carries all the marks of a giant folly, and those unfamiliar with the book will be baffled".
The Hollywood Reporter says it is "headache-inducing" for the audience to try to keep up with every storyline. Although it does heap praise on the make-up team who made Tom Hanks look like Elton John, Austin Powers, his own character from Castaway and Russell Crowe's Gladiator all in one film – adding: "I suspect that Oscar voters will feel similarly."
Others had little nice to say. Indiewire called it "bold, messy and disappointingly unimaginative". While Slant magazine said it was "a unique and totally unparalleled disaster”, adding: "It collapses so intensely under the weight of its own inanity and pretension that nothing at all is left standing.”

Sign up for our daily newsletter