November 30, 2012

MOVIES: Cloud Atlas (Lana and Andy Wachowski & Tom Tykwer, 2012)

I had very mixed reaction this one, an adaptation of David Mitchell's novel in which six stories are interwoven to tell a cosmic story of souls recurring throughout time, facing similar obstacles in periods ranging from the 1840s to a post-apocalyptic 24th century.

Most of the principal actors play roles in each story, which I think was a mistake; it took the recurring souls notion which had been fairly subtle and metaphorical in the book and made it overly literal. It also meant that each casting decisions was more consequential; one actor who's not up to the rest of the cast doesn't just sink one chunk of the movie, but two or three. (Halle Berry and Jim Sturgess were particularly noticable weak links throughout.) And it became a distraction, since you're spending so much time looking to see where Tom Hanks or Hugh Grant is going to pop up in each new story that you're not really paying attention to the story.

That said, some of the multi-performances were better than others. Jim Broadbent was, to be sure, aided by the fact that he wasn't asked to depart much from his actual age, gender, and ethnicity, but he was the most consistently entertaining actor in the movie. Hugo Weaving mostly played variations on his usual evil corporate drone, but somewhat surprisingly managed to pull off a comic drag turn; and Doona Bae's brief appearance as a Hispanic dog owner was one of the few radical transformations that was even remotely convincing. Jim Sturgess in bad Asian makeup, on the other hand, wasn't much of an improvement on Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's, and Tom Hanks' brief appearance as a London gangster was laughable.

The individual stories are mostly moderately entertaining, though they tend to bog down in their biggest action moments -- chases through San Francisco and "New Seoul" are surprisingly tedious -- and each one goes through nearly as many "oh god, I thought it was over" moments as the last Lord of the Rings movie. The overall effect of the six stories, though, is a muddled mess, with a lot of vague woo-woo philosophy about interconnectedness and our responsibility for one another that never gets clarified into a clear vision.

This is probably as good a version of the novel as we could hope for, but it's a novel that would probably have been left unfilmed.

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