Despite Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, ‘Cloud Atlas’ ends up confusing
Maybe if you’re 20 years old and high in your dorm room with your friends, the platitudes presented in Cloud Atlas might seem profound.
Anyone else in his or her right mind should recognize it for what it is: a bloated, pseudo-intellectual, self-indulgent slog through some notions that are really rather facile.
Ooh, we’re all interconnected and our souls keep meeting up with each other over the centuries, regardless of race, gender or geography. We’re individual drops of water but we’re all part of the same ocean. That is deep, man.
Perhaps it all worked better on the page. Cloud Atlas comes from the best-selling novel of the same name by David Mitchell which, in theory, might have seemed unfilmable, encompassing six stories over a span of 500 years and including some primitive dialogue in a far-away future. Sibling directors Lana and Andy Wachowski – who actually have come up with some original, provocative ideas of their own in the Matrix movies (well, at least the first one) – working with Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer, have chopped up the various narratives and intercut between them out of order. The A-list actors who comprise the cast play multiple parts across the various stories and in elaborate makeup.
Tom Hanks is a scheming doctor on a voyage across the South Pacific in 1849, a trash-talking novelist in present-day London and a peaceful goatherd who’s part of a post-apocalyptic tribe in the 2300s. Halle Berry is a composer’s white trophy wife in 1936 Scotland, an investigative reporter in 1973 San Francisco and a member of an elite society of prescients in the farthest future. Hugh Grant is often the least recognizable of all beneath layers of prosthetics: at one point, he’s a vengeful old man; at another, he’s the raging leader of cannibals.
Maybe the concept of transformation and of connectedness despite the physical vessels we occupy felt especially resonant for the transgender Lana Wachowski, formerly Larry Wachowski. But rather than serving as a satisfying, cohesive device, the multiple-parts strategy feels like a distracting gimmick.
Cloud Atlas is ambitious in its scope, for sure – edited fluidly and often wondrous to look at, but totally ineffective from an emotional perspective. As you’re watching it you may ponder whether any of these six stories across disparate genres would be more compelling as its own, stand-alone film.
The most ridiculous is the one that takes place “After the Fall” in Hawaii in the mid-2300s. It requires Hanks and Berry to yammer at each other in a disjointed, stripped-down version of English that’s as indecipherable as it is laughable.