Reviews for the Easily Distracted:
That Would Be A Huge Atlas: I always liked how our old Rand McNally monstrosity would take up an entire shelf, but a "cloud atlas" just seems extravagant.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three and a half shooting star tattoos out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Six interweaving narratives span centuries to let us know we're all in this together, man.
Tagline: "Everything is connected."
Better Tagline: "If you ever wanted to see Tom Hanks play a sleazy Englishman -- three times -- here's your chance."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: What is this I don't even.
As I said, you've got six interconnected plots (19th centrury South Pacific, pre-WWII Cambridge, 1970s San Francisco, modern-day London, future Korea, postapocalyptic Hawaii), with characters linked both by writings/recordings of those that came before and by a mysterious birthmark shared by several of the principal characters, which is displayed early on and then more or less ignored for the second half of the movie.
And did anybody mention each lead actor plays about a hundred characters apiece? Because they totally do.
"Critical" Analysis: In its best moments, Cloud Atlas strives for transcendence. Hell, it yearns for it. And when it hits those notes, especially during the middle section when new discoveries and connections are being made and everything hasn't devolved into unfortunately pat action sequences, you get a sense of what might have been.
It's quite an ambitious project, making a film about how humanity is ultimately greater than itself and the fundamental truths that link us all together. I don't think the subject's been tackled since, oh, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. And the locations are generally stunning, from Oceana to "Neo Seoul" (the latter being very obviously a Wachowski construct). The movie looks epic, or maybe I'm just easily impressed by the ready juxtaposition of clipper ships and flying cars.
Clearly part of how co-directors Tom Run Lola Run Tykwer and Lana and Andy Wachowski want to emphasize the continuity is by using the lead actors (Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, Doona Bae, etc. etc. ad nauseam) over and over (and over) again throughout. For example, Hanks plays -- in order: a nefarious doctor, a nerdy scientist, a hooligan-esque author, and a future shepherd with borderline schizophrenia who talks like the kids in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. It's entertaining for a while (I really wanted to see more of Dermot Hoggins, who comes across as Hanks riffing on John Travolta's character in From Paris with Love), but what starts as coming across like an inspired casting decision feels gimmicky by the end. Though I did like how Weaving plays a bad guy in every segment.
And several of the individual segments are, admittedly, pretty damned engaging. The look of the Wachowski-helmed "Neo Seoul" story is stunning, while the Jim Broadbent-led jailbreak vignette added some much needed humor to the proceedings. I also appreciated the retro Streets of San Francisco feel of Halle Berry's investigative journalist chapter (Keith David was born to play a Shaft-like badass)
But the themes ("we are all one") in question are ultimately simplistic, and all the neon horror of 22nd century Asia or sweeping romance of pre-WWII Cambridge can't hide the fact. This won't come across as a knock to some, but there are times when Cloud Atlas feels like a sci-fi Love, Actually. It shoots for the stars, literally, but comes back down to earth a little more abruptly than expected.
Cloud Atlas is in theaters today. See it with your favorite fabricant, and try to ignore that hallucinatory devil telling you to kill everyone.