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Friday, November 2, 2012

Cloud Atlas (Release Date: 10-26-2012)

        Perhaps above all else, Cloud Atlas is a movie for those with patience. With an exhaustive 172 minute runtime, six disparate story lines, and more prosthetics than you ever thought could be crammed into a single movie, the massive film is defiantly, proudly esoteric. Directors Tom Tykwer and Lana and Andy Wachowski are clearly swinging for the fences here, and your enjoyment of their work will ultimately boil down to how much you appreciate their throw-everything-at-the-screen-and-see-what-sticks attitude. What is this unwieldy beast of an epic even about, you ask? Well... I'll try my best.

        A ship sails the pacific ocean in the year 1849, carrying among its passengers a young lawyer (Jim Sturgess) who documents their various adventures in a journal. This journal is in turn read by Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) in the year 1936, when he serves as a amanuensis for an elderly composer while working on his own piece, The Cloud Atlas Sextet. Said sextet has an almost etherial ring to it in the ears of Luisa Rey (Halle Berry), a 1975 journalist bent on uncovering some devious acts committed by a powerful energy corporation. Follow me so far? Good, because the final three stories, one set in the present, another some 130 years from now, where a Korean metropolis does its best to ape Blade Runner, and the last in a distant, unspecified, post-apocolyptic future, have little-to-no literal connectivity to speak of. Suffice to say, there's a lot going on here, and nifty narrative lines from point A to point B are at a minimum. Oh yeah, and most everyone in the cast plays multiple characters across the various, interwoven stories, some thespians filling as many as seven different rolls.

        If you're the type to enjoy ambition for ambition's sake, my god, do I have a movie for you! In terms both technical and thematic, Cloud Atlas is a mammoth under-taking, one that might have crushed lesser artists under its weight, and almost does the same to Tykwer and the Wachowskis. As one might expect, the quality of the various stories is ranges wildly, from the gentle, melancholy romance of the 1936 section, to the blazing neon action of 2144 Korea, to the utter nonsense of watching a face-tattoo-covered Tom Hanks speak gibberish in the desolated future. Some work better than others, but the film is so determined to madly cross-cut through time and space that it almost nullifies their unevenness. The audience has neither the time to become truly annoyed by the lesser chapters, nor the exposure to the better ones that might have permitted real emotional investment.

        Tom Hanks and Halle Berry should not be in this movie, period. Their faces are recognizable to just about any movie-goer out there, and watching them pop up in one stupid costume or fake nose after another is just plain distracting. Other thespians, whose voices and mannerisms aren't so emblazoned into America's pop culture psyche, fair much better, often justifying the artistic indulgence by furthering the film's sense of connectivity. Yeah, seeing each swap genders and races is a bit jarring, and I'm positive that someone out there is extremely offended by all of the culturally ambiguous dress-up on display here, but it's nothing if not unique. And I guess that's where I landed with my thoughts on Cloud Atlas: It's a messy film, far from the masterpiece that it so clearly wants to be, but it's also some of the most enormous, bombastic pageantry that you'll ever see on a big screen. Clumsy and occasionally wrong-headed, yes, but lazy and satisfied it ain't, and it's big-budget audacity alone was worth the price of admission for this guy. Those who like things neat and tidy will be beating their heads against the wall, but if big is your thing, it's a can't-miss.

Grade: B-

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