Kaleidoscopic and extremely ambitious, Cloud Atlas feels like about a dozen movies rolled into one.
This wildly uneven but handsomely mounted adaptation of David Mitchell’s metaphysical novel was directed by a trio of acclaimed filmmakers, including siblings Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run).
It’s an epic that mixes genres and big ideas, dealing with concepts such as evolution, reincarnation, quantum physics and the cosmic order of the universe. Those sorts of aspirations come with a pretentious price tag, but at least the film compensates by becoming both provocative and entertaining.
The movie cuts between more than a half-dozen storylines, ranging in setting from the mid-19th century to a vision of the future circa the year 2350. There are certain thematic links that are present throughout the film, and oddly enough, so are the same actors.
Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant are among those who employ a variety of prosthetics and accents to portray different characters, both good and evil, who appear either throughout the film or might pop up only briefly with or without explanation.
Cloud Atlas is episodic by nature, with some vignettes naturally more compelling than others (a recurring post-apocalyptic segment featuring Hanks and Berry babbling almost in tongues could have been shortened considerably). There are moments of wicked humor, shocking violence and dazzling special effects as the film blends together elements of action, mystery, science fiction and romance.
The nonlinear nature of the screenplay requires the filmmakers to do a constant narrative juggling act, and the result might leave viewers confused as they try to connect the dots and piece together various chronologies, especially with the constantly shifting narration and point of view. The final hour is more tightly focused for those who can hang in there.
The gimmick of casting the same actors in multiple roles yields a mixed bag, with the familiarity of the faces sometimes serving as more of a distraction than anything else. However, it is a technical triumph in terms of editing, set design, costumes, and obviously, makeup.
The project is defiantly inaccessible and unpredictable, and isn’t afraid to risk polarizing audiences. Yet Cloud Atlas isn’t different merely for the sake of being different. Rather, it’s a bold and challenging film that leaves itself open for interpretation, and that’s a good thing.
Rated R, 171 minutes.