CLOUD ATLAS (2012, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, & Andy Wachowski): 6/10
And no, that’s not one point for each segment. It’s tempting to turn analysis of this film into a dissection of the parts, then discuss how the sum is lesser than or greater than they are. But my impression is pretty much singular and my memory of this movie (which I saw 10 hours ago as I’m writing this) feels as if it’s all one giant blob — for better or worse.
You’ve heard a lot about this film’s ambition, and I’m not going to short-change it at all in that regard. I do give points for boldness — take a look at my personal favorite films and you’ll see that visceral intensity and sheer energy are in my wheelhouse a lot more than lackadaisical, reserved, too-school-for-cool movies (sorry, Pink). But a movie needs more than ambition to work — and luckily there’s a lot about CLOUD ATLAS that does. When it’s romantic it’s almost tear-jerkingly so. When it’s funny, it’s laugh-out-loud. And most impressively, it’s remarkably coherent on a narrative level.
My issues with it are few but severe. Some of the makeup and effects are ludicrous, and some of the story points are Saturday morning cartoon dumb. And on a fairly serious level, there’s a creepy aspect to the message that comes very close to justifying not only religious fundamentalism (not necessarily on a spiritual level, but on a slavish and relentless devotion to a Cause or Belief) but also terroristic violence. The Wachowskis wrote V FOR VENDETTA with a similar interest in revolutionary violence, and there’s a fine line between heroic rebellion and mercenary, horrific nihilism.
That said, there are worse ways to spend three hours in the theater. All uneasiness about the themes aside, this is quite an entertaining exercise in spinning plates and manipuating emotion. Hugh Grant doesn’t get to play a villain often, so he takes advantage by playing one in nearly every segment here — and does it really well. Hanks and Berry dive in head first with material that could easily be pompous, but their sincerity makes it watchable. Weaving, Whishaw, and Sturgess all do solid work as well. It’s too bad so much of the film is single-minded and borderline warmongering, because despite its frequent absurdity, it’s still a one-of-a-kind cinematic symphony, the likes of which we see far too infrequently both in big-budget studio pics and indies as well.