Cloud Atlas (2012) – Lana Wachowski (Dir.), Tom Tykwer (Dir.) Andy Wachowski (Dir.), Tom Hanks x 6 (Regular Tom Hanks, Future Hick Tom Hanks, Irish Tom Hanks, Buck-Toothed Tom Hanks, British Tom Hanks, Old Man Tom Hanks), Halle Berry x 6 (Regular Halle Berry, Jewish Halle Berry, Future Halle Berry, Crazy Asian Doctor Halle Berry, Slave Halle Berry, Hot Indian Girl Halle Berry), Jim Sturgess x 4 (Regular Jim Sturgess, Asian Jim Sturgess, Angry Scottish Hooligan Jim Sturgess, Photograph Jim Sturgess), Boona Dae x 4 (Robot Boona Dae, Hispanic Cleaning Lady Doona Bae, White Doona Bae, Underage Doona Bae), Jim Broadbent x 5 (They’re all Old British Jim Broadbent – SPOILERS) Keith David x Awesome (Keith David is always Keith David), Hugo Weaving (Assassin Hugo Weaving, British Hugo Weaving, Slave Owner Hugo Weaving, Nurse Ratched Hugo Weaving, Asian Hugo Weaving, Lord of the Rings Nightmare Hugo Weaving), Hugh Grant x 4 (Douchebag Hugh Grant, Slave-Owner Douchebag Hugh Grant, Old Douchebag Hugh Grant and Cannibal Douchebag Hugh Grant)
I’m not entirely sure what just happened. Just look at that cast list. LOOK AT IT. Yes, allow your face to melt off like a Nazi peering into the Ark of the Covenant. This isn’t so much a movie as it is a visual novel, an attempt at a cinematic symphony, an event of such colossal insanity that it is not applicable to quantify or qualify any of its attributes by any earthly standard. It is brash. It is bold. It is huge. It is utterly absurd. And it’s one of the most interesting things you will watch all year. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, before even reading this review/response/I-don’t-even-know-what-I-do-anymore, go, go see Halle Berry as a white Jewish woman living in Edinburgh, see Hugo Weaving with an Asian-face so terrifying it might be used to ward off Korean plastic surgery for the next century, and witness this sprawling, undulating, titillating thing. It is a wonder to behold. Much like the first space shuttle launch or perhaps the first flight of the Hindenburg, the masses huddle about one another waiting to see something either great or a disaster of ball-tingling brilliance. We have the movie-equivalent of a ten thousand ton volatile payload, a Wachoski-ass full of liquid hydrogen that, on the one hand, could send us into the outer-stratosphere of imagination and, on the other, might offer a fuck-up of such astronomical proportions that even Heaven’s Gate might give it a standing ovation. What do we have…?
Wow. That’s all I can utter. I went to this thing, late on a Sunday night, exhausted out of my mind, and completely certain that I was going to pass out within the first ten minutes. I didn’t. Not once. They don’t waste a damn second. Cloud Atlas is based on a novel of the same name by David Mitchell (not the hilarious sour-faced Brit we all know and love from Peep Show, but an actual Writer with a capital ‘W’). It follows characters throughout six time periods who each have a loose connection to one another. There’s Jim Sturgess, the slowly dying chronicler trapped on a boat in the 1800s Pacific. Then we have the touching and painful tale of Ben Winshaw as a struggling gay composer and his parasitic relationship with a man who has far outlived his welcome in 1930s Edinburgh. Next, there’s Halle Berry as a tenacious reporter intent on averting a Three-Mile Island-esque catastrophe in the 70s with her helpful deadly black friend, Keith David (who, for the record, is always deadly). Number four is my favorite, Jim Broadbent’s aging publisher is locked up against his will by his terrifying vagina-faced Hugh Grantian brother in an old folks home requiring a Great Escape-level jailbreak. Fifth: the utterly Matrix-ified, action/adventure, kinda-racist yellow-face revolution following a clone named Sonmi-451 and her seemingly-incinvible boyfriend Chang (Jim Sturgess, who, as you would know from Across the Universe is about as Asian as Adolf Hitler). Finally, we have Tom Hanks as a goat herder in 2333 helping out techno-angel Halle Berry save her people, all the while dogged by Hugo Weaving as dressed as a hobbit-demon. Yes. That is only the set-up. Over the course of these three epic hours, the tales intersect, overlap, go under and over, pass by, intertwine, make-out, sixty-nine each and then can’t really look each other in the eye anymore at work because they both know about the weird shit the other is into… Yes. It’s a mess. But it’s a really fucking fun and engaging mess. Like a drag queen who came runner-up in RuPaul’s Drag Race. You’re with her. You feel for her. You know she’s beautiful. But she’s still stuffing her face with ice cream and sobbing over what could have been.
Cloud Atlas brought up a lot of Feelings. Yes that’s with a capital ‘F’, mutherfuckers. Not only is its scope and ambition something I wish to aim for myself one day, but it’s stories are so perfectly constructed, along with its haunting score, to touch you were it tickles. We have these disparate stories that really have nothing to do with one another; each story lead is only offered a fraction of what is typically needed to build an emotional bond, and the tone runs the gamut of quiet British sensibility to bombastic sci-fi, balls-on-the-table batshitness. A funny thing occurs, though. The casting of a handful of actors to present this unhealthy mass of human emotion brings about two ends: firstly, you spend the movie going “Holy shit, who convinced Halle Berry to Guy-Pierce-in-Prometheus herself like that? She looks like if someone threw acid on Mr. Miagee” and secondly: though these people only take up a few minutes of your time, the repeated viewing of the same faces somehow builds a sense of camaraderie, a connection to the basic principle of these people. You end up falling for an utterly indescribable and ephemeral through-line, a spirit, if you will. It’s the oddest thing. A pavlovian emotional response. And while the make up and fake prosthetics are almost infuriating in their ridiculous nature, playing ‘spot the actor’ is, in a way, encouraged. With each instance of “Aha! There they are!”, from Tom Hanks’ despicable attempt at an ‘Irish’ accent (I think) to Hugh Grant as a mutherfucking cannibal, you are drawn into this cast of actors who truly seem as though they are working towards an unachievable end…but they’re going for it all the same. By the end, you’re with them, whether you like it or not. They have you in their claws and they ain’t letting go until all the dust has settled and you’re ready to grab a loved one/not-really-loved-one-but-there-anyway/Ben and Jerry’s ice cream tub and hold them tight.
This won’t be the best movie of the year but it will be the most ambitious. Nobody has ever attempted anything of this scope and scale since perhaps The Lord of the Rings and, even then, most of that was a safe bet. This, this reeks of risk and career suicide. Leave it to the two assholes who brought us Speed Racer to bring about the most sprawling and challenging work in a decade. Also, Run Lola Run’s Tom Tykwer. That mutherfucker is just as crazy. Does it do everything right? FUCK NO. Did you read that cast list? Holy God, there were a few scenes that were almost Zipedee Doo-Dah-levels of awkward. Yes, they should have had at least one Korean or Korean-American actor in the cast. Yes, some of the make-up is so distracting that sometimes you’re afraid you might be smothered by Hugo Weaving’s tits while you sleep. But you know what? You ain’t never seen anything like this before. You can have your Lincolns, your ‘important’ movies about ‘important’ people who said ‘important’ things. You know, movies where actors put on a single piece of prosthetics and are critically fellated for being so ‘brave’. Brave? Fucking brave? You wanna see brave? See Hugo Weaving doing ANYTHING in this movie. One day, he’s going to show this to his grandkids and say, “Yes, that’s granddad Hugo with fake boobs. And there I’m blonde and murdering dogs. And then I look like someone turned my scrotum into eyelids. And, oh, oh look! Now I’m a warted, top-hat sporting hick-demon from the future!” But, then again, he was in Pricilla Queen of the Desert. Crazy Aussie.
A collection of the most coolest/most hilarious moments: old-face Hugh Grant, a dude exploding after falling off a balcony, inexplicable kung-fu, buck-toothed/balding Tom Hanks talking about Jim Sturgess’ meat, slow motion china exploding, Hugo Weaving’s tits, Jim Sturgess with a prosthetic nose punching the shit out of a British gentleman, “I know! I know!”, a plunger in the mouth, that awkward moment when the audience realizes Ben Wishaw played Hugh Grant’s wife, Boona Dae as a murderous hispanic lady, Halle Berry as a white woman, Hugo Weaving as a Nazi composer, Susan Sarandon with Mike-Tyson-esque facial tattoos and so on and so forth. If you don’t just say, “Hey movie, I know you want to play and you get a little goofy…but here I am. Let’s do this,” you are missing out. It’s like watching a conclave of nerds playing Dungeons and Dragons. Yes, you can be a snobbish ‘cool kid’ and write them off as losers, OR you can watch, figure it out and realize that sometimes the nerdiest and oddest people think about the world in utterly engaging ways.
You won’t see anything like this for years, my friends. Mark my words, see it. See it again. Really digest what you are viewing. Then devise a drinking game involving every time the movie is unintentionally racist. You won’t regret it.