October 29, 2012 at 10:00AM
It might have disappointed at the box office this weekend (although disappointment is a big word for a result that anyone with two eyes and a heart could have saw coming months ago), but in cine-circles, "Cloud Atlas" has been the center of conversation. The adaptation of the best-selling David Mitchell novel, directed by Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski and Andy Wachowski, and costing an independently-financed $100 million, it's a bold, genre-spanning film with an all-star cast, and great ambitions than pretty much everything released in theaters in the last month.
There’s no simple way to discuss the maddening, problematic, certifiably insane “Cloud Atlas.” One could say what it is, which is the most adventurous American movie in years, noting that is not a recommendation or condemnation. So it is for the binary power of “Cloud Atlas,” at times ridiculously brilliant and brilliantly ridiculous, an adaptation that shows great integrity of preserving the mad genre dash of David Mitchell’s tilt-a-whirl novel into three exhaustingly cinematic hours. As a film, it’s not equal to the sum of its parts, and how could it be? For the interconnectedness of the premise (hammered home by too-obvious cross-generational casting) it’s hard to see the relationship between the longings of poor Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw, excellent) and the future-world caveman Zachry and his relationship with space mentalist Meronym (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, both awful). Still, the hold of “Cloud Atlas” is undeniable -- as compelling as the existential crisis undergone by Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent), so thrilling is the segue to this storyline following the tense, shootout-laden journalistic thriller that spotlights how Keith David has been one of Hollywood’s most ubiquitous but underused resources for years. Most importantly, the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer have made “Cloud Atlas” cinematic - big, sweeping, grandly ridiculous, visually austentatious. Even when it gets bogged down in endless chit-chat about the themes being addressed, “Cloud Atlas” is always moving, always reckless, always brave. Not the best film of the year, by a long stretch, “Cloud Atlas” is sure to be one of the most memorable. [B] - Gabe Toro
Is “Cloud Atlas” that imaginative and “insane”? I was under the impression that the author of the book, David Mitchell invented the characters, the storyline, the connectivity themes and the very fabric of the entire movie. So maybe we should give credit where credit is due? Still, props to the Wachowskis Starship and Tom Tykwer for trying to pull off this ambitious adaptation, but I do take a small amount of umbrage for those that call it one of the most imaginative and adventurous movies ever made (maybe from a financial perspective, sure, but let’s face it this is a commercial venture and the product has commercial appeal). Had it been made from scratch, an original idea, then yes, it might be up there. I digress: “Cloud Atlas.” Well, you have to give it up to the film and filmmakers that they can make an almost three hour movie this entertaining and engaging. There’s about seven different movies in “Cloud Atlas” and the way they cut together despite being unwieldy and muddled tonally... well it’s a miracle the film isn’t more of a mess than it should be. My issue is that “Cloud Atlas” aspires to be soulful and moving with this deep “everyone’s connected” motif, but I personally didn’t find it that profound or moving. I found it to be entertaining, but the “we’re all connected/love is all you need/ truth will set you free from every oppressor” theme -- the three main ones that seemed to be weaved throughout the film -- a little bit simplistic and a little bit like platitudes. And then little things threw me out of the movie, like the ridiculous make-up and the silly British rom-com section and just some of the outlandish sections that were too goofy to lend an air of overall profundity. That said, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, I thought some of it was somewhat impactful and again, it’s pretty entertaining for a 3 hr film about the way humanity is tied across the sands of time and space. However, paraphrasing a tweet Kevin once wrote, I don’t think it holds a candle to emotional, spiritual and metaphysical impact of the “The Fountain” and the films of Kieslowski that generally say just as much in much richer, less clunky and more resonating manner. [C+] - Rodrigo Perez
I remember the breathless hype coming out the TIFF World Premiere for “Cloud Atlas” where the film was hailed by some critics as an epic, sci-fi masterpiece. Having attended that same screening, it would appear I was shown an entirely different film. The film I saw was epic and bold certainly but also deeply silly and kind of a disaster. (A completely admirable disaster, sure, but a disaster nonetheless.) While I have to respect the cast’s fearlessness taking on a variety of roles, races and genders, I’m afraid their directors have left them out to dry. Headliners Hanks and Berry seem to have been cast because of their international appeal and not because they seem particularly suited to these roles and the heavy prosthetics they (and the rest of the cast) are saddled with are extremely distracting. While the film does get marginally better as it goes along and rescues itself from the feeling that you are watching a disaster of “Battlefield Earth” proportions, it still comes off as an ambitious failure. “The Fountain” told a similar ambitious story with its lead actors playing different characters across multiple time periods, but it was a much leaner, more focused film whose climax reverberated across each storyline. Here, the stories are too scattered and disparate to take on any emotional resonance. As I struggled to stay engaged, I tried imagining who exactly this movie is for — an independently financed $100 million leisurely paced sci-fi drama pretty much rules out every audience, doesn’t it? — which is a reason to admire it. And while I can’t hate “Cloud Atlas” for its ambition, that doesn’t mean it works. [C-] - Cory Everett
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