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Confusing throughout, flat out unintelligible at points, and just plain boring, Cloud Atlas is almost three hours of frustration you're well-advised to skip.
If you were one of the unfortunate few who bravely watched 1984's Dune, you were privy to a disaster that few films have matched. Since then, the formula (which involves an ambitious project wracked with a mix of shoddy storytelling, terrible acting, and poor editing) has sadly been well-duplicated. The year 2012 has seen its share of potential dance partners for Dune, but few come close to the quagmire which is Cloud Atlas. Few films will spawn such a polarization of opinion as this nearly three hour epic will, but it's clear that 'disaster' is an apropos place to start.
Any attempt at a summary would be folly, but suffice it to say our actors get to play multiple roles in multiple time periods that seem connected only by the fact that we actually recognize their true identities under tons of latex or body paint, rather than making any real attempt to explain how they got there or their connection to each other. I can also say that it stars Tom Hanks (Saving Private Ryan), Hallie Berry (Swordfish), Hugo Weaving (Captain America: TFA), and Hugh Grant (Notting Hill) as counterparts who chase each other throughout time, with each of them experiencing different fates in each timeline. I can also state that Cloud Atlas wants to be a big movie about big ideas - oppression, violence, the connectivity of people to time - but that's about all I feel confident in relating about this inspiration by author David Mitchell. To get any deeper under this film's absolutely impenetrable surface is risking too much, not because there's some hidden mystery that can only be seen to be appreciated, but because the details are simply too boring.
Things feel uneven from the start, as if our trio of directors (Tom Tykwer, Run Lola, Run and Andy & Lana Wachowski, The Matrix series) worked in different rooms for each scene, content to not call the other while shooting their version of the film, for fear someone might realize the impending disaster that was unfolding. Add to this the absolutely incomprehensible dialogue of the distant future, whose gibberish speak doesn't help clarify anything except that the future is pretty dumb. Subtitles would have helped, but I suppose the lack of them reflects the masochistic side of the Wachowskis, content to let us struggle towards some ending about the timelessness of love. Instead, we try to muddle our way through it, while Hanks imparts something important to Berry about...well...we're not sure. There are timelines which seem totally disconnected from others, ones in which our leads are not even in together (thus defeating the whole love-timeless thing), and plot points which achieve absolutely nothing. When the future Hanks and Berry risk ascending a tall mountain to open an ancient satellite dish, for example, nothing happens...I mean nothing happens...and our characters simply return to Hanks' village, which they learn has been destroyed by rejects from The Road Warrior. There's no explanation provided (at least any we can decipher) about the facility, what they hope to achieve by going there, or how it will solve the problem which is killing Berry's people (I did understand that part at least). Audiences shouldn't have to think this much in order to decipher a film's message, but Cloud Atlas sticks it to us, drawing nothing but dissent from those of us who have enjoyed these actors in plenty of previous roles, but who as a whole generate zero chemistry.
So ridiculous in its premise and so unsatisfying in its conclusion that audiences will no doubt wonder if the film's editing crew was out to lunch for most of the post-production, Cloud Atlas is certainly one of the worst films of the year. It's quite possible that Mr. and Ms. Wachowski (formerly Mr. Wachowski before her sex change) have finally spent the remaining amount of goodwill capital they had left from The Matrix on such a disastrous pile of garbage. This probably won't ruin our actors' careers, but certainly the best days of the Wachowskis seem long gone. It's a folly of epic proportions, one that will test your patience and bladder consecutively. Some might actually connect with Cloud Atlas, but it's such a crap shoot that I can't advise you try, unless your goal is to alienate friends and loved ones by dragging them to it. Cloud Atlas is rated R for nudity and violence and has a runtime of 172 minutes.
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