Just saw an advance screening of Cloud Atlas. One SPOILER ahead.
The short review is that while it has more than a few preposterous moments and while there are times where the conceit of using the same actor for multiple roles is a distraction, overall it was entertaining. 3 out of 4 stars (with an extra half point deduction for an unforgivable cliché I will mention below.) My pal Bill Simmon would appreciate its ambition; I appreciate that unlike Prometheus it succeeds more often than it fails in fulfilling that ambition.
The sci-fi scenes are the most entertaining and intriguing with actresses Doona Bae and Halle Berry providing the most compelling performances. The flashback conceit was a bit tough for me to get into at first, but eventually as the connections became clearer both narratively and editorially they started to add to the fun and intrigue. There was a fair amount of clunky dialogue, but a larger number of moments that subverted cliché in a satisfying way and a few action set pieces (again mostly in the New Seoul of the future) that were quite a bit of fun. It’s a three hour film, but I was never bored and often was cheering.
There is one cliché they did not subvert, however, and this leads to my spoiler. The black slave wasn’t lynched, the women were strong and kicked ass, even the caveman/cannibal time had some nice surprises but what was the fate of the only gay lovers in the film? One killed himself, the other was killed without fighting back, both died by gunshot. A number of hetero relationships got to have their happy ending, but the gay romance? Beautiful but tragic. The straights fight tooth and nail to save their loves. The gays? Well, they have our deepest sympathies. Can’t expect them to be action heroes or anything like that. Just like we’ve seen a million times before.
I’m not going to read in any dark agenda on the part of the filmmakers. Maybe it’s how it is in the book, but it’s disappointing coming from the creators of one of my favorite films, Bound. Disappointing that they didn’t subvert that cliché when they had a very good opportunity to up until the very end and it would have been a pleasant surprise, narratively speaking. It wouldn’t have been pandering, it would have made the movie stronger. And it’s especially disappointing in a movie that so trumpets individuals standing up for themselves and overturning the bigoted “natural order” of the world.
Halle Berry’s character asks “Why do we keep making the same mistakes?” The answer in the film seems to be because of ignorance and because we choose the safety of the status quo over bravery. I just wish the creators of the film had either been more aware of this cliché or if they were aware of it, a little bit braver by choosing to subvert it.