Saturday, November 10, 2012

Cloud Atlas

Is Cloud Atlas the most ambitious mainstream film in years, or just the longest Saturday Night Live sketch ever made? The truth lies somewhere in between. Under the direction of the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer, a ludicrously stacked cast jumps into multiple roles traversing the realms of time, space, and gender, and the results can’t help but sometimes resemble a big-budget adaptation of Where’s Waldo? (Spot the Oscar winner and get a prize!) I’m sure having Halle Berry and Tom Hanks on the marquee must have been a big help when it came to securing financing, but these aren’t exactly the sort of actors who disappear into a character, you know? If you stick Tom Hanks in a bunch of bad wigs, you don’t get a succession of different people—you get Tom Hanks in a bunch of bad wigs (the cockney accent doesn’t help). Still, the real topper has to be Hugo Weaving in drag doing a Nurse Ratchet imitation. Oh, Mitzi Del Bra, has it truly come to this?

The other big downside to the distracting disguises—aside from the unintended comedy, I mean—is that it makes the film’s notions about reincarnation tediously literal. Six different plotlines stretching from the past to the future are woven together into a grand tapestry of tyranny and revolt, but apparently the audience can’t be trusted to piece this together without some fuzzy talk of past lives. Plus, one of the film’s most ingenious conceits makes this whole convoluted karma-machine completely unnecessary. Throughout each era, the events of the past pop up again in novels, journals, and films, each previous act of resistance mutated by the passage from reality to myth. This link between storylines is all the more powerful for its subtlety, at least relative to more ham-handed tactics, such as the recurring birthmark shaped like—I shit you not—a shooting star. Unsurprisingly for such a bloated behemoth of a film, the best moments are often small and seemingly tangential: a dream set loose in a china shop, or a geriatric rebel’s rallying cry of “Soylent Green is made of people!” It’s funny until you realize that the film really does have its own version of Soylent Green, and it really is made of people. And then it’s hilarious.

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