One of the flimsiest premises for a major motion picture in ages hits theaters with four Oscar winners, six separate stories and more rubber noses than a clown convention.
“Cloud Atlas,” the ambitious telling of author David Mitchell’s 2004 novel, spins on the notion that the actions we take today will impact generations to follow in one form or another. But not in any logical manner, like taking down a dictator or inventing a cure for a fatal illness.
This film isn’t so neat and tidy. It’s more about good and bad vibes reverberating through the ages. Or some such nonsense.
To get there, we watch Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Jim Sturgess and a few other poor souls slip in and out of makeup to play multiple characters scattered across the past, present and future.
We see a post-apocalyptic Hanks, reduced to a caveman-like identity, talking a silly version of English with a woman from an advanced tribe (Berry). A story set in 1973 finds Berry, again, playing a reporter tracking down a huge story – conservatives will groan in recognition when they learn the target of her reportage.
A closeted young man (Ben Whishaw) forms an uneasy alliance with a great composer (Broadbent), while an old man (Broadbent, again) rages against being dumped into a nursing home.
“Cloud Atlas” flits between the stories with little rhythm or cohesion. It leaves one puzzling over the mediocre makeup, from bulbous noses to ’70s wigs and bald pates, and wondering what the stories have to do with one another.
What’s worse is how little each tale matters. The jokier portions are child-like, and not in that wonderfully whimsical fashion. And the moral lessons are paint-by-numbers bland. One segment finds Sturgess bonding with a slave, the two connecting over their common sense of humanity. Yawn.
It also takes an enormous amount of time for any of the stories to gin up any dramatic excitement. When that finally happens, we start wondering what might have been.
It’s safe to say directors Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski and Andy Wachowski would make a pretty lousy debate team if “Cloud Atlas” is our sole evidence. The trio repeat the banal themes of the film repeatedly, and they never comes into sharp focus.
Their film is occasionally breathtaking in its scope, and if you’re really patient a few of the story lines offer reasonable pay offs. You’ll just have to endure a 2-hour, 45 minute movie for that modest reward.
Follow Christian Toto on Twitter @TotoMovies