Film Reviews

Cloud Atlas Lana and Andy Wachowski, Tom Tykwer

Rating - 6/10

Every year or so I somehow get turned on to the latest “classic” in what is now called the Literature genre at Barnes & Noble which includes everything from Cervantes to Lee Childs, and being a pragmatic soul, always hopeful that he will find great art made in our own time, I pick up these books and pour through them.  My latest experience of this kind was a maddening run-in with Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, which I nearly threw across the room after 100 pages of characters meant to represent all of us, acting like nobody you’ve ever met.  I had a slightly better experience with Cloud Atlas a few years back in that I was able to get through it, but frankly I remained unimpressed by the boldness of the technique involving layers of six stories intertwined, or with its rather bland message about the interconnectedness of all things.   It was a neat trick, and the different styles representing different points in time was pulled off deftly enough not to be annoying, but, as with so many of these modern classics, I never was surprised by a startling insight or swept away by a miraculous passage of prose writing. 


And so it is with the film adaptation, helmed by Andy and Lana Wachowski (Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run).  This is pretty much what I was expecting since I had heard that the filmmakers were attempting to recreate the experience of the book on film, and I knew that if they succeeded, I’d leave feeling mildly entertained and a little bit hollow.  I had hoped, on the other hand, to have the kind of transcendent experience Roger Ebert claimed to have in his glowing review of the film.  In my opinion, Ebert’s tendency to be swept away by the purely cinematic, mainly visual, elements of movies sometimes gets the better of him, as in this case, where all the grandeur doesn’t really add up to much. 


There are multiple stories at play, and each one is almost beside the point except to make some Matrix-esque statement pitting freedom against totalitarianism.  The main conceit is to use the same actors in all the stories, hitting us over the head with the vague linkages of souls over time.  This varies from somewhat inspired to fairly clumsy, as Tom Hanks is basically tom Hanks in any disguise and in any century, and Halle Berry is not that compelling a personality to sustain our interest in a film of this length.  Other actors, such as Jim Broadbent and particularly Ben Wishaw, make the most out of their featured spots.  Of all the segments, I found the Neo Seoul sequence featuring Bae Doo Na to be the most successful, probably because its futuristic tone seems right in the Wachowski’s wheelhouse.  The film only borders on ridiculousness with the far future sequence featuring Hanks in a primitive society, “after the Fall”, complete with pidgin English and tribal dress.  Most of the time, the shifting stories and time frames help keep you from being bored and in a way might not be a radical departure as much as the future of film, since the ADD generation can’t be expected to follow a conventional story all at once for the length of a feature film.  Better to shift between stories the minute they feel bored like they do at home with the remote control. 


It certainly is something to see, and despite the length you are not likely to be completely bored, though I think the average thoughtful moviegoer will leave ultimately unsatisfied, having invested nearly three hours in a film that doesn’t deliver anything beyond obvious hokum about karma and oppression.