Written & Directed by Two Wachowskis and a Tykwer.
This has been the year of The Trailer. The trailers earlier in the year for THE DARK KNIGHT RISES and PROMETHEUS are amongst the greatest these eyes have ever seen. I add to that list the six-minute online “sizzle reel” for CLOUD ATLAS, which damn near brought me to tears. Alas, from past trailer-to-feature realities (looking to you, PHANTOM MENACE) I know that the full movie I have created in my head will never be as good as the short version. Of the three, CLOUD ATLAS came closest to my dreams, but I had to put in the work.
From seeing the beautiful trailer in June, I rushed out to the local library and grabbed the copy of the novel CLOUD ATLAS by David Mitchell. I should mention that I have had a hell of a time reading books of late. My mind just fights me every time I start in on one. I hope this phase will pass soon, but I will tell you if you are having a hard time sticking to a book from start to finish, CLOUD ATLAS would be akin to a ultra-marathon in moon boots. But finish it I did, mystified by what it was and what it all meant. So glad that they made a movie out of it so that I could see what I thought I had missed…wait, how the loving fuck did they get a movie made out of this?
In short, the book tells six stories that take place over six time periods: past, present & future. The characters in each story bear similarities to those in the others, a point that is made in the movie by recasting the same group of actors in different roles (some not of the same race or gender). All stories reference at least the previous one, sometimes openly, sometimes obliquely. Two of the stories are written in old timey English, one in techno-toungue, one in made-up post apocoplyptic banjo-speak, so keep up. Help me, Tom Hanks, you’re my only hope.
Fold in three filmmakers –two Wachowskis and a Tykwer and about $100 million, and you have quite the spectacle. Everything is big, lush, elaborate and expensive-looking. Everything moves and spins, everything has a heart and a soul and so eagerly wants you to know this. Is that Susan Sarandon under that mound of silicon on her face? If so, why? Does it matter? (there are indeed more rubber noses than Ralph Malph could ever count.)Darting from one story to the next to the next and back again. Theme? We are all connected, somehow or our souls will live on to the next…or all we need is love or…whatever was next up. Who cares? I got wrapped up in the sheer Everything of CLOUD ATLAS. The experience of it all was all there was to it.
Of course, not all of “it” works. How could it? Six very different stories told concurrently (different from the book) over six vastly different eras, and some are stronger than others. A dozen actors play literally dozens of roles, so some of the repertory casting choices don’t work (try as they might, Koreans largely can’t pull off a Mexican accent) The makeup at times strains credibility (Go ahead, picture Hugh Grant as Grandpa Sawyer from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.). Yes, the last couple of scenes came off as rather clunky to me. I saw a better ending in one of the other stories, but by that point, it was just nit picking. This is a movie that has to be graded on a curve, because how many films dare attempt anything like this, and if they exist, did they set the standard?
Much like other sincere, ambitious films with sci-fi elements such as A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE and WHAT DREAMS MAY COME (or for that matter, more “serious” works like TREE OF LIFE, MAGNOLIA and NEVER LET ME GO),the negative reaction is of a more repellant nature, as if the film was intentially and specifically designed to offend them. The narrative on this film was written before it came out (too expensive to succeed, Tom Hanks is no longer box office, Halle Berry’s career is as troubled as her personal life, etc.), which is too bad, becuase you don’t get this kind of damn-fool, experimental epics all that often. Many of the critics have already made themselves smarter than it, the Oscars will punish the film for its lack of box office success and it will carry a “stank” whenever written about in the mainstream press. But the people, like myself, who know they saw something special, will circle around it and revisit it from time to time, just happy it exists at all.
-This has the year’s Best Score that will Not be nominated for an Oscar: Co-director Tykwer along with longtime collaborators Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil have created something special. Heavy rotation around here.
-For me, a project this interesting makes up for a lot of lost time. Hugh Grant and Halle Berry have not done something this interesting in awhile, and it sure is nice to hear from the Other Voice of God, David Keith.
-I will never know how the film plays to somebody who has not read the book first. Rare I can say that.
-Small shame that Hugo Weaving (and Hugh Grant for that matter) only gets to play baddies in this. But form the text one of them seem like perfect casting.
-When I mis-spell the title it usually comes out as CLOD ATLAS, which is awesome.