Written & Directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski & Tom Tykwer
Cloud Atlas is a bit of a strange beast altogether. Hard to fathom, hard to describe, but I imagine easy enough for me to write about. There is just so much going on here that if I were at a loss for words I would be worried in fact. Of course there is Tom Hanks, perhaps my favorite actor, playing many roles, as are all the other actors here, which comprise a pretty marvelous ensemble cast (Halle Berry, Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving). But while this can be a strength, it is also very much so a weakness in this film. The Wachowski siblings (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) construct a pretty film with plenty of great scenes and characters, but I think at the end of the day they reached too far, and ultimately fell short of lofty ambitions.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, one of my favorite quotes says this: “I shoot for the stars and will settle for whatever happens in the interim.” I believe it was baseball great Warren Spahn who said that. Certainly he benefited from having immense talent so his “shot” is greater than most, but what the writer/director team has done here is aim to break the record for highest skyscraper and end up just as a skyscraper. Still a good achievement. And I usually reserve the second paragraph of my reviews for a synopsis of the plot of the film, but it is so far reaching in this case that suffice it say that lives interact among eras in the most important and loving ways to create a cacophony of vignettes disguised as a symphony.
To start, this film encompasses the gambit of filmmaking. It features the past, present and future, intertwining genres left and right. It is sci-fi/fantasy/action/adventure/romance/historical fiction all rolled into one wild ride. And of course, being from the Wachowski’s, it is philosophical to its core. I am sure upon multiple viewings the film could be deconstructed by any philosophy major for multiple points. I suspect one days many a college term paper could be written on the philosophy of this film and the interconnectedness of all things in the universe. This is one of the films strengths and I found it to be most engaging in that manner. In addition, the film is beautifully shot by a few of the wonderful cinematographers working today John Toll and Frank Griebe. The beauty of the world, even, and perhaps especially, as it passes through time, is one of the major stars of the film.
The weakness of the film, while being one of its strengths also, is the huge ambition of the film. There are just too many characters and too many storylines going on here. At times the editing is handled wonderfully, and in some cases the individual vignettes are quite good. But the coalescence of the film is lacking from start to finish. In some cases it flows, and in other points in the film it is not only slow moving, but feels disjointed and jarring. There are specifics of the film that do not work as well. In some instances, the characters some of the actors are forced to play are a bit outrageous. The one that comes to mind most as an example of this offense is the story of the gangster (Hanks) who writes a biography that only becomes popular after he kills a critic who gave it a bad review. His publisher (Broadbent) gets duped into signing into a retirement home with a demented nurse (Weaving). While Broadbent delivers and fits his character, the other two are wildly out of place.
But as I said, there are certain aspects of the film that work wonderfully. For example, everything done for the Neo Seuol sequence is fantastic, which is odd since my favorite sequence in Babel, another film about interconnectivity, was the Asian storyline. Doona Bae is quite good here. Ben Whishaw is another strong character here as he struggles to capture his own genius amidst the musical genius, and madness, of another, all the while longing for the love of his life in a time where his preferences are not generally accepted. When I walked out of the film 3 hours later, there was more I enjoyed and took away from the film than there was I wanted to forget. I would not go so far as to call the film a “mess”terpiece, but it has its definite stremgths and ultimately I think I would settle for what the Wachowski’s and Tom Tykwer have accomplished in the interim, even if they did fall short of the desired grandeur and greatness they initially sought.
*** – Very Good