Cloud Atlas reviewed by Armond White for CityArts

Cloud Atlas disgraces Griffith’s legacy

By Armond White

The Lana and Andy Wachowski siblings have teamed up with German director Tom Tykwer to film Cloud Atlas, a nearly three-hour adaptation of the novel by David Mitchell. This filmmaking super group’s one movie feels like six bad movies.

Six stupid–as in unintelligent, unsophisticated–plotlines are meant to converge as a vision of spiritual connection throughout the ages. The Wachowskis directed a 1849 ocean voyage, 2144 revolution and a post-apocalyptic idyll in the 24th century. Tykwer helmed a 1936 gay love story, 1973 ecology thriller and 2012 social satire. The stories were edited by pomposity,

The film’s guiding principle is a pretentious, repeated motto: “Our lives are not our own. From Womb to Tomb we are bound to others. Every crime and kindness births our future.” This combines New Age doggerel to New Millennium cynicism as interminable as it is insufferable. The entire conceits lacks poetry. Its humanist pretext is constantly undercut by the reliance on violent spectacle that exposes the filmmaker’s basic insensitivity.

Another motto (“We all must fight and if necessary die to teach people the truth”) is a testament to supergroup arrogance. They equate epic filmmaking to social revolution. They want to turn fan boys into super groupies. But they have forgot (if they ever knew) the poetic coherence of D.W. Griffith’s magnificent 1916 Intolerance–still the greatest movie ever made–where stories from four time periods were interlaced according to the rhythm and logic of Walt Whitman’s “Out of the cradle, endlessly rocking.”

Griffith’s cross-cutting finale literally rocks to this day while Cloud Atlas’ ineptitude seems endless. If the Wachowskis could get away with the futuristic nonsense of the Matrix movies, they might also find similarly gullible supergroupies this time as ignorant of Griffith as they are unenlightened about the clumsy mix of hippie philosophy, sci-fi speculation, p.c. agendas (involving sexual politics and slavery) and historical nonsense.

The Wachowskis–critic Gregory Solman always called them the Watch-Out-skis–and Tykwer needed the basic movie miracle: perfect casting. No such luck attended the involvement of Tom Hanks whose six roles lack Peter Sellers’ humor or Hallie Berry whose six roles stretch her thin talent to near invisibility–despite ludicrous prosthetic make-up.

Minus luck, Cloud Atlas needed the force of will and genius that produced Griffith’s Intolerance. Griffith’s inspiration resulted from his desire to invest a new medium with the narrative richness he knew from classic literature. Critic Andrew Sarris once said “Film is the art to which all the other arts aspire.” The Cloud Atlas Supergroup don’t understand that fact. They cannot create a new era masterpiece when they disregard Griffith’s legacy. Would ignorant critics appreciate the difference?

Follow Armond White on Twitter at 3xchair