Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas is the strangest, most confusing big-budget movie I've seen in a long while - maybe ever. It stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, and several others, each of whom play as many as seven different characters from the past, present, and future. It's directed by the Wachowski  siblings (the Matrix trilogy) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run). Rather than try to tell you the story (er, stories), I'll refer you here and you can read for yourself, but beware of numerous spoilers.

Cloud Atlas deserves its R rating. There's plenty of bad language, skin, and bloody violence in it. And for those and other reasons, I don't recommend this movie.

For one thing, it's long (172 minutes). An hour in, I congratulated myself that I didn't shell out money for it, as I used a Regal reward to get in for free. But that tells you that I wasn't liking Cloud Atlas very much - until another hour or so had passed. Then it finally started to grow on me. By the end, I thought that to do it justice, I really should see it again. But...no, I'm not going to do that. For several reasons.

Much of the acting is just not that good. Halle Berry in particular looks like she's in a high school play. And for me, Tom Hanks is totally out of place - in every iteration. The weird language his and Berry's characters speak in post-apocalyptic Hawaii is just silly. I can imagine Tom and Halle must have burst out laughing in take after take. In order to play five, six, or seven different people, all the actors had to have amazing makeovers. The prosthetics and wardrobe budgets alone had to be ginormous. In a way, it's kind of fun trying to identify who's who. But after a while, I was wondering if it was really all that necessary to make the same people play all those different parts. Obviously, the point was to show that people are connected over time and space. But still.

One actor who is really great in this movie is Jim Broadbent. In one of his five roles (as Timothy Cavendish) he is hilarious. Cavendish is a publisher who owes some thugs a bunch of money and ends up "imprisoned" in a nursing home. His escape with three other "inmates" becomes a really funny misadventure.

Another fine and haunting performance is turned in by Hugh Weaving (of Agent Smith fame). In one of the film's stories, he plays a devil-like character. I had a new image of Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness.

Along the way, Cloud Atlas manages to preach against Big Oil, nuclear power, capitalism, homophobia, and of course Christianity. However, there is a redeeming element that I should mention. The film ennobles self-sacrifice for the good of others. A refrain heard throughout the movie is, "Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future." That's true, so far as it goes. But John Calvin (1509-1564) had a more God-centered philosophy:
We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: insofar as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours. Conversely, we are God's: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God's: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God's: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal. 

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