Awesome dude. I mean, just awesome. It’s like going to the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone or something. Really. You might even get the T-shirt to prove you were there (and to brag to yourself in the mirror).
If you go to “Cloud Atlas” you won’t be shy about it, that’s for sure. I guarantee you’re going to tell people about it – something like “I just saw the worst movie ever” or “we just sat through the biggest mess ever made and didn’t understand a word.” Then again, you may just tweet “OMG!” When my grandson is old enough to know what I’m talking about (he’ll only be 3 in January), I fully intend to pass the info on. Maybe I’ll even sit with him and watch it together on the tube.
The simple, hopelessly inelegant thing is to call it a “crock” and have done with it. It’s a dear and glorious crock though – a wild, nutty and, yes, heroic attempt to do the impossible that no one should ever have essayed at all much less dragged so much money and talent into.
You should have seen the news conference for this thing at the Toronto International Film Festival. Just about the whole major cast was there – a small platoon of truly fine film actors led by Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant and Halle Berry – as well as its three directors, the Wachowski siblings Andy and Lana (who used to be Larry before the sex change and the tomato-red hair dye job) and the exceptional German filmmaker Tom Tykwer.
That, bless them, was Warner Brothers virtually announcing to the world “yes, we’ve seen this massive cinematic folly and if you think we’re going to hide it under the couch and pretend it doesn’t exist, you’re crazy. In for a penny, in for a pound. We’re doubling down every chance we get with this thing, as if it really were a magnificent, visionary masterpiece by the people who separately gave the world the ‘Matrix’ movies and ‘Run, Lola, Run.’ ”
And that, to the studio’s eternal credit, is what it has done. It advertised the bejabbers out of it on the tube and bicycled the film’s biggest names – Hanks and Berry – to talk shows to sell it. (Letterman promised viewers they would get their money’s worth which is, strictly speaking, true even though he didn’t mention how much of that involved highly entertaining risible dialogue, prodigiously bad makeup and stories that simply can’t be plucked from a book and reproduced one-for-one on screen.)
Hey, when you’ve got Hanks and Berry and the rest of the exceptional acting talent, all playing the kind of multiple roles that actors love to sign on for, you might as well let them get out there and pretend that the audience will be dazzled when they leave the theater rather than baffled at the hitherto unsuspected amount of spectacular mess one film can contain.
I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. But then I love directors who try to film impossible, unfilmable novels. Surprisingly good things can come out of it – look at Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” and “Lolita,” look at David Cronenberg’s “Naked Lunch” (his version of Don DeLillo’s “Cosmopolis” didn’t even open in Buffalo but amid the failure – mostly of Robert Pattinson as star – the film had its moments).
There are very engaging and remarkable things amid the six stories of “Cloud Atlas,” particularly Berry as a reporter in a kind of “Silkwood”-like plot and Jim Broadbent as an aged composer who engages the help of a younger one played by Ben Whishaw leading to notable rustlings after dark.
In a 500-page novel, all the mutable stylistic virtuosity is a sort of literary tradition in and of itself, so you can be a thrilled reader as things go from 1849 sea voyages to England in the 1930s to San Francisco in 1973 to current London to Seoul, South Korea, in 2144 and beyond to a returned, post-apocalyptic neo-primitive culture on a Pacific island with its own nonsensical English dialect.
Put David Mitchell’s novel on film as ingenuously as this in a kind of soul-transmigrating illustration of Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal return and you’ve got so much pretension and hooey that cinematic history is being made.
This isn’t a mere mistake, this is a massive, insanely audacious, fearless folly and there really is something perversely wonderful, even thrilling, about it, even as you leave the theater laughing, marveling, groaning and shaking your head over what you just saw on a movie screen.
You never saw it before, not even in “Matrix”-land. Guaranteed.
Awesome, I tell you, just awesome.
cloud atlas
2½ stars
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent
Directors: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer
Running time: 164 minutes
Rating: R for violence, nudity and language.
The Lowdown: Adaptation of David Mitchell’s complex novel that wove six different stories and eras into one vast 500-page book.