Despite the hyperbolical entreaties from some, failure to see Cloud Atlas will not hasten the inevitable decay and demise of cinema. While the latest film from The Matrix directors the Wachowskis and Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer is ambitious, to be sure, ambition does not in itself equal success.
Cloud Atlas isn’t so much a movie as it is six movies told simultaneously, none of which have enough of a connection to one another as to warrant intercutting. The closest thing each of these stories have in common is that the same actors are used in each one, many of them playing different genders and/or different races. This is more disorienting than illuminating. Each time the movie cuts to a different story, it becomes a sort of actors’ game of Where’s Waldo? This is further complicated by the fact that not every actor is present in every story and some are merely in the background, making their presence superfluous. The patient viewer asking, “So how does her presence here correlate to her presence there?” will find only frustration, not illumination.
The terrible makeup effects actually hinder rather than help clarify things. At best it makes the actor unrecognizable, (which then prompts the question, why is the actor even there?) at worst, freakish. While some may find the interchanging of races offensive, it is merely distracting and does nothing more than draw unwanted attention to itself. It takes more than slapping latex on someone’s eyes to transform him or her into another race.
Further hindering matters is the slang spoken unintelligibly by Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon and Halle Berry in the future-most storyline. It’s not the slang itself that is the problem, but the mumbly delivery that makes it incoherent. This is one area, at least, where Joss Whedon succeeded in Serenity, ensuring that the slang made sense and was spoken with clarity.
Even if you want to excuse these problems as being in service to the story as a whole, none of the six separate plot lines come together in any meaningful way. As separate films they are moderately entertaining. As one they are a sort of Frankenstein construction. The only thing they have to say is that all humans are connected somehow throughout history. It says this often lest you forget why this experiment is taking place.
Like the Wachowskis own Matrix sequels, Cloud Atlas is a film that thinks it’s more penetrative than it is. However, it ends up as a slog that offers viewers no reward for their time and attention.
See instead: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). It may lack the science fiction element but that’s only 33% of Cloud Atlas anyway. David Fincher deftly weaves an elegant tapestry that is beautiful and poetic. It is undercut by a wrap-around story that disrupts its rhythm but still delivers a film of scope and ambition that doesn’t overreach.
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