If there’s one thing that “Cloud Atlas” teaches us, it’s that karma is a bi**h. Especially when it dooms us to experience the same evils and disappoints over multiple lifetimes and incarnations. This is particularly troubling to me because, if this existential gobbledygook is to be taken seriously, my future self is fated to waste nearly three hours of his – or her – life sitting through a movie just as pretentious and incomprehensible as this one. I sure feel sorry for that dude – but not as sorry as I feel for myself. I can’t stop thinking about all the productive things that could have been done during the time I allowed myself to be inundated by a bevy of Oscar winners burying their million-dollar mugs behind layers and layers of caked-on makeup.
Of course, if I were stuck in a movie as bad as this one, I’d want to obscure my face, too. And while they well may hide, they cannot run from the soulless line readings and horrid accents they employ in somnambulant service of a trite tale spanning more than five centuries and six incarnations. And what do we learn from this massively long, massively silly opus from the directing triumvirate of Tom Tykwer and Lana and Andy Wachowski? The meaning of life? The origin of man? No, think much simpler, just like the filmmakers, who’d lead you to believe they’ve stumbled upon something deep, but deliver little more than inane pontifications upon the philosophy of Lennon, who profoundly stated: “All you need is love.” … and a better agent, if your name is Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent or Susan Sarandon.
In some ways, it’s kind of fascinating to watch a vaunted Oscar quartet embarrass itself under the delusion that it’s communicating something IMPORTANT! That’s a laugh! And, for the most part, so is the movie, which, like the David Mitchell novel it’s based upon, tells six separate stories rooted in the past, present and future. And the thing they all have in common are characters seeking love and freedom from tyranny. The scenes are as diverse as a 19th-century slave ship, an English castle in the 1930s, the streets of San Francisco in the 1970s, a 21st-century old folks home, 22nd-century Korea (much of it now under water), and 24th-century Hawaii, not long after the apocalypse.
Some of the actors, like Hanks and Hugo Weaving (wait until you see him in drag), appear in all six stories as different characters sharing the same soul. Others, like Sarandon and Broadbent, pop up in only a couple. But no matter the size and scope of the role, the cast – which also features Brits Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw and Hugh Grant and Korean star Doona Bae – is consistently undermined by a script (co-written by the three directors) lacking depth and fluidity.
Page 2 of 2 - Part of the reason for the film’s choppiness is the decision by Tykwer and the Wachowskis to alter the novel’s structure, which told the six tales in a more logical, chronological order. The movie throws them all at you at once, jumping back and forth in time so often that I got dizzy trying to keep up.
It also doesn’t help that the divergent directing styles of Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”), who helmed the pieces set in the 20th and 21st centuries, and the Wachowskis (“The Matrix Trilogy”) often clash. The quality of each section is also all over the map, with Tykwer clearly getting more bang for the film’s 100 million bucks. His stories create drama, suspense and, in the case of the 2012 piece – about Broadbent leading his fellow seniors on a daring escape from their despotic retirement home – intentional laughs. His three pieces also have the advantage of actually being about something – homosexuality, nuclear power conspiracies and the warehousing of elders – where the Wachowskis’ bits are overly simplistic: a slave seeking freedom, a fembot trying to make a break from oppression and a futuristic fight for survival. The Wachowskis also get a tad racist with the Korean-set story, asking several of their Anglo and African-American actors to don “yellow face,” including Sturgess, who looks like he walked in from a Keanu Reeves look-alike contest.
Still, as awful as the narrative and the acting are, the film is a technical marvel, full of imaginative sets and impeccable editing. But that’s hardly worth three precious hours of your time. Now, if only I can get that message to my future self. And if by some chance that I can, that dude owes me big time.
CLOUD ATLAS (R for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use.) Cast includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess and Hugh Grant. Co-written and co-directed by Tom Tykwer and Lana and Andy Wachowski. 2 stars out of 4