daniel cohen gets lost amongst timelines…
Plot: The tale of six stories happening simultaneously, but in six different time periods dealing with oppression, cover-ups, slavery, love, and music.
The best way to describe Cloud Atlas is if you took an NFL team that played horribly for three quarters, and then in the fourth quarter they had a few nice plays, but the game was already out of reach. Unless you have fantasy players, there’s a good chance you probably turned off the game. Cloud Atlas is boring, vague, clunky, and confusing for about 140 minutes before finally settling into something decent. Now this film isn’t a complete train wreck, there are entertaining moments to be sure. But at approximately 170 minutes, it isn’t at all worth your time.
What irks me most about this film is that the directors and writers (Tom Tykwer/Andy Wachowski/Lana Wachoswki) want you to think that these six stories have some genius connection between all of them, when in reality, they are the laziest and most general similarities imaginable. In one story, we have Sonmi (Doona Bae) trying to break out of prison in an oppressive distant future, where in another story in present day, we have Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) trying to escape a nursing home…get it? Yea man, it’s all connected. But if that’s not bad enough, the editing is absolutely shameless. We’ll see a character walk along a tight bridge, and then we cut away to another time period where another character is walking along a tight catwalk. Wow…how clever. Despite some nice cinematography, it’s a pretty poorly directed film. But as lazy as the directing is, it doesn’t compare to the quality of the screenplay, which would fail any Intro to Screenwriting class in college, yet this script actually got made.
What’s especially frustrating about this bloated mess is that all six of these stories on their own could have been pretty good. Sure, some of them are better than others, but all six have a good foundation. The problem is that it’s impossible to get emotionally invested in any of them because every time they are about to get interesting, it jerks you back to another time period. It’s like that episode of Family Guy where Brian and Stewie are constantly transported to other universes, except that was funny. And the writing is so clunky in the beginning, I only had a vague idea of what these tales were even about. The dialogue is nothing more than poorly written voiceovers and speeches that pretend to have these powerful meanings, when in reality they are emptier than car dash boards after the needle has gone way below the ‘E.’They are so fixated on trying to sound important, I don’t even really know what the plot is to most of these. Especially with the two future stories where they try and present these hugely important and dramatic scenes, but I barely know what’s going on. How am I supposed to feel anything? It’s an excruciatingly smug script.
In knowing that these are the filmmakers who wrote the Matrix Reloaded and the Matrix Revolutions, I wasn’t surprised by the inconsistent writing and directing. What did surprise me though was the sub-par acting. Tom Hanks really surprised me in that he just seemed to be going through the motions. He looked like he was fooled into thinking this was some brilliant project, but when he got there, had no idea what to do with it. Now keep in mind, this is a movie where a lot of the actors play multiple roles in different timelines. I only liked him in the 2012 timeline in which he plays an bitter underappreciated writer. This was the only timeline I got into from beginning to end, and heavily focused on Jim Broadbent, who does give the best performance(s) in the movie. This storyline was at least funny.
I’ve never been a huge Halle Berry fan, but she was actually solid here. Her biggest story takes place in the 1970’s as an investigative journalist, and she definitely gave this role her all. The actor who surprised me the most was Hugo Weaving. And it’s not because he was good, but because he was actually really terrible. In every timeline, he’s doing a bad Agent Smith impression. Seriously, that’s his performance. He was hamming it up like there was no tomorrow, and really brought down any validity this movie was clinging onto. The other weak performance was Doona Bae, as her major role is in one of the future timelines where the city looks like a Blade Runner rip-off. She really has to carry this timeline, but has no screen presence whatsoever. She just has no confidence in the role, and it really took me out of this particular story.
I don’t blame the actors too much, because this was a movie that was never going to work. And I want to be very clear about this – I like when movies challenge themselves. I like risky movies. But this was never a risk, because the script was horribly written from the start. All six of these stories on their own could make great movies, but these guys thought it would be so brilliant to meld all of this into one giant ‘cohesive’ story, when they have absolutely no business being in the same film. I understand this is based on a book, but what’s in a book doesn’t always translate to film. To the film’s credit, I got into all of these stories in the last 30-40 minutes, and I particularly enjoyed Jim Broadbent’s role, but the payoffs are no where near the time it takes to sit through this. I’ll end this with another fantasy football analogy: I’m not going to keep a running back on my roster who’s sucked for 8 weeks because I think he might be good in week 9. At this point…I’ve already dropped him.
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Barely Passable Entertainment)