Friday, September 6, 2013

Cloud Atlas

Directed by Lana Wachowski, Tom Twyker, and Andy Wachowski.
2012. Rated R, 172 minutes.
Jim Sturgess
Doona Bae
Ben Whishaw
James D’Arcy
Zhou Xun

When Cloud Atlas starts, we meet Tom Hanks speaking in some sort of broken English. He lives in a village that would fit snugly into a Robin Hood movie. In a few minutes, we meet him again. We’ll meet him several more times before it’s all said and done. In fact, the same goes for most everyone in the cast. The deal is that there are five plots playing out at various points in history, utilizing most the same actors for each. Oops, there are six stories. I lost count. In any event, I’m not going to recap them all. That would drive us both crazy. Suffice it to say they all get roughly equal screen time and they’re all related. The point of the movie is to show us how.

To say that putting together this puzzle is a massive undertaking is putting it lightly. Each story could probably have been a full-length feature on its own. They all have their own self-contained plot, but also fit into the larger narrative. The protagonist is played by a different person in each section. Even more than that, all of the parts play as different genres. Throughout its run time, we bounce from crime-thriller to science-fiction to comedy to elderly comedy and more. The order is not always the same, occasionally leaving us behind while we’re trying to figure out the connections in our head. It can be a bit disorienting. Thankfully, we eventually settle into a rhythm where we make the transitions almost as smoothly as the film.

Helping keep up the illusion that all of these stories will somehow connect at some point is our very game cast. The biggest name is Tom Hanks. He lives up to his top billing with excellent work here. He gives us a hero, a villain, and a few minor characters. The next biggest name is Halle Berry. Like a lot of guys, I’m a huge fan of how she looks. Unfortunately, that doesn't translate to how I feel about her acting. It is on rare occasion that I praise her performance. No, Monster’s Ball was not one of those times. I don’t care what the Academy says. She’s not award worthy here, either, but she holds her own. That is, she holds her own except for when she's paired with Hanks, then she’s completely overshadowed. She fares much better in her other scenes, of which there are many.

The one actor not overshadowed by anyone is the amazing Hugo Weaving. Even though I don’t recall him ever switching sides, I think he’s a bad guy in all of his parts, he is magnificent every time. However, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that he benefits more than anyone from the work done by the makeup team. I mean, one of his characters is a woman which he plays far more convincingly than Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Martin Lawrence, or Tyler Perry. The takeaway here is that I don’t often mention makeup in a movie, unless it is exceptionally good or exceptionally bad. In this case, it’s outstanding. Aside from Weaving, others are almost completely unrecognizable in one guise or another, but in a good way.

With that cast, we criss-cross eras and try to make sense of it all. The first clues lie in the audible narration that pops up often, all the way through the movie. It is usually used as a way to link the various events. It’s all rather pretentious sounding stuff, to be honest, but they lead us to the inevitable question: What does it all mean? The first thing that pops into my head is that a case is being made for us to believe in reincarnation. Next is simple proof of the old adage that history repeats itself. Both of those leave me with the nagging sensation that something deeper is going on. I have my theories, but I don’t think I’m ready to share. I’m still piecing it together in my head. What that tells me is that CA is one of those movies it takes several viewing to truly appreciate. This is likely the reason it didn't fare so well at the box office. Leaving the theater having to figure out what you've just seen isn't as appealing when you've paid ten or fifteen bucks per ticket. In the comfort of your own home, you might be more forgiving, more willing to give it multiple spins. Still, that’s what makes it a classic ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ film; frustrating for many not willing to dig through so many layers, yet highly fascinating for those who are. I imagine you know what type of viewer you are. At least, I hope you do. If you’re not a digger, move along, nothing to see here. If you are, the question becomes will you like it enough on your initial viewing to make you want to see it a few more times?

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