Cloud Atlas, 2012.
Directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski.
Starring Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Xun Zho, Doona Bae and Zhu Zhu.
An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.
A few weeks back I watched the year’s best film, Argo. The movie tells the true story of a CIA agent who puts together a fake Hollywood movie as a cover story to help some US Diplomats escape Iran. The film is supposed to be a garish and ridiculous piece of Science Fiction. As I watched the new film Cloud Atlas, I kept thinking this could easily have been the end result of such a ludicrous proposition. It’s a brutally long and painfully obvious journey through six stories that hammers themes of unity and the importance of shared connections. While its message is admirable, and the story has some interesting facets, the whole effort is the kind of train wreck to which many will be unable to look away. There will be walkouts. There will be people falling asleep. There will be a very loud and vocal minority that will tell you this is something revolutionary. The truth is Cloud Atlas is a ridiculous spectacle that defies explanation.
That’s a challenge, of course, since I’m writing an article about the movie.
There were those who said David Mitchell’s compelling and stream of consciousness novel Cloud Atlas was unfilmable. Turns out they were right. This is one hot mess. The story tells six stories. There’s a dying Lawyer (Jim Sturgess) trying to make it home on a ship bound across the Pacific. A young composer (Ben Whishaw) trying to create a masterpiece. A book publisher (Jim Broadbent) dealing with the trappings of old age. A reporter (Halle Berry) trying to expose a scandal involving a nuclear power plant. A synthetic waitress (Doona Bae) who is the key to a revolution in a dystopian future. And a post apocalyptic wasteland where a goat herder (Tom Hanks) has to lead a future chick in a unitard (Halle Berry) to a satellite dish. The stories range from grounded simplicity to over the top hilarity. And not always intentional. In order to properly criticize Cloud Atlas, we need to cover a few bases.
Each actor plays several roles in the movie. Since the film is about eternal connections, filmmakers Larry and Lana Wachowski decided the best way to show timelessness was to take their actors and slather them in awful prosthetics and make up. In one story, Tom Hanks looks pretty much like Tom Hanks. In another, he’s doing a terrible British accent with a bald cap hamming it up like some a community college production of Oliver. Every actor in the movie has a moment to appear as themselves, and then another to appear in the most awful, rubbery make up you’ve ever seen in a hundred million dollar movie.
Half the movie kind of works. And half the movie is a disastrous, painful excursion that will make you question the sanity of those involved. The far future storyline is the most excruciating and hilarious. They make an effort to create this kind of future language that everyone uses. Like if someone created a communication method based on Ebonics and text messages. When Halle Berry opens her pretty mouth and utters “Do you want to know the true true?”, you will laugh. And rightfully so. The language is so idiotic and spoken with such sincerity that it becomes a running punch line throughout the movie. Most of the audience in attendance giggled every time the movie cuts back to the grim, scary, cannibal filled future where people talk like hillbilly teenage morons.
It’s kind of too bad. There were parts I liked. Three of the storylines worked pretty well. Everything with Tom Hanks and Halle Berry is complete shit. Seriously. Complete shit. I really looked for something redeemable in these segments. Sadly, there’s none to be found. The casting of Hanks and Berry is just an awful miscue. Hanks is a great actor but he’s barely believable in any of the half dozen roles he plays. The lesser known talent does a much better job of bringing some weight to this pabulum. James D’Arcy, Jim Broadbent, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, and Jim Sturgess walk away with their dignity intact. To their credit, this was no easy task.
The theme of Cloud Atlas is so simple, and yet, it takes three hours to drill this simple little morality tale into the audiences eyeballs. Cutting back and forth between the six stories keeps the painful bits from stagnating too long. But the pieces never add up to anything other than obvious. This is the kind of obtuse, ham fisted fiction that will feel like nails on a chalkboard to anyone over the age of twelve. I suppose we should credit the creative team behind Cloud Atlas for their ambition. This is a completely unique film. However, being unique isn’t always a good thing. A fried otter sandwich is unique, but it’s not exactly something I’d be keen to order.
As I said, several of the storylines are harmless enough. I rather enjoyed the story of Sonmi-451 and the plight of her fellow fabricants, artificial life forms designed for labor. Even though the entire idea of sentient artificial life is nothing new to film, the segments still had a passion and energy lacking in the rest of this over produced mess. Cloud Atlas is a film you will want to like, but it tries way too hard. Every gimmick, every actor forced into bad make up, every desperate attempt to remind you how clever it tries to be. Some people might appreciate the effort, but I think most are going to find Cloud Atlas to be an epic endurance test.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★