After taking a few years off after their critically panned and under appreciated Speed Racer the Wachowski’s (Andy Wachowski Lana Wachowski) have returned – along with some guy named Tom Tykwer (who directed the terrible The International and a bunch of other foreign films) have one of the most narratively ambitious films of the year Cloud Atlas, based on the popular book by David Mitchell.
Cloud Atlas is one of those “anthology” style films that strings together several disconnected stories that somehow miraculously come together and connects at the end. The primary issue with this brand of storytelling is that usually the writer/director spend a lot of time building up a story and right when it gets good, cuts to something completely different so it almost always feels like a chore to sit through these anthologies.
The Wachowski’s and Tykwer take a different approach and never spend more than five or 10 minutes with each of the six different stories that span space and time. It makes for a faster pace but all the time and theme jumps sometimes feel jarring. One minute you are following a young English Lawyer’s (Jim Sturgess) perilous journey from America to England, to a story in the far future where a lower class genetically engineered waitress (Doona Bae) becomes a revolutionary. To the comedic story of an near do well author (Jim Broadbent) who tries to escape from an Insane Asylum, to the Silkwood esq 70s cop story of a Journalist (Halle Berry) trying to uncover corporate wrong doing. Soilent Green is people my friend, just saying.
The Tom Hanks/Halle Berry far, far future Apocalypto style story is a crushing bore, while the Amadeus story featuring a spoiled, young British Composer (James D’Arcy) who matches wit and talent with his would be mentor (Played by Tom Hanks) fall a bit short. While there are a lot of stories to keep track of, all of the actors brought their A-Games in each of their various roles. Tom Hanks does an adequate job here but he is overshadowed by both Halle Berry’s various incarnations and Jim Broadbent who does Oscar caliber work. For the most part, this movie features large cast of “likable” but “forgettable” characters.
Cloud Atlas is not as preachy as one expects from the Ws. Its themes of loving one another and taking responsibility for each others lives throughout the ages, is surprisingly, radically, toned down and actually makes a semblance of sense. Not at all like the Pop Philosophy used in the Matrix that was just ponderous, PONDEROUS man!
From a directorial standpoint the movie looks competent but it doesn’t contain the drug induced visuals of Speed Racer or the scope and scale of the Matrix films. It seems like the Wachowski’s are actively trying to reign in all of their over the top tendencies to focus this movie squarely on the acting and story they are trying to tell. There are obvious reasons why this story and its themes are probably truly personal to them. You know they most likely had discussions on whether to use bullet time during the breach sequence.
Many will come away from this movie feeling inspired and thinking this movie is “deeper” than it really is. Others will spend a good two hours (of its three hr runtime) wondering what the heck is this movie about. It doesn’t come together until the last hour and by then its almost too late. The movie would have benefited from some serious trimming. It falls far short of being the sweeping epic it wants to be, but you do have to admire effort.