Lana and Larry Wachowski and Tom Twyker take on David Mitchell’s epic novel head on in this massively ambitious 173 minute multi layered time hopping would be opus. The trio of directors, marking their allotted stories with their trade mark themes of philosophy, alternate lives and destinies, certainly manage to make the daunting task at hand an entertaining watch but it’s a long way from kinetic story telling of The Matrix or Run Lola Run and plodding in its execution. The running time aside, the many characters (played mostly by Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Tom Hanks, Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving and Doona Bae) in all of the eras prove to be more confusing or weak than enlightening in their links, ultimately cooling down Cloud Atlas to a bit of a luke warm mess.
A young composer (a stand out Ben Wishaw) joins forces with an ageing musical genius in 1936, a slave trader has his mind altered by his doctor and a stowaway on a ship in 1894, a young journalist uncovers a dangerous political story in 1973, a publisher gets himself in a bit of a pickle in 2012, a replicant is interviewed in 2144 and cultures and races collide in the strangest ways in 2321. With the principle cast playing all of the main roles across all of the stories often hindered by more and more fantastical prosthetics. Questions of race, gender, fate and past lives are hinted at to begin with and then shovelled down your throat in the closing 30 minutes but despite its complexity there is nothing of true genius in between the many joining dots of Cloud Atlas.
It becomes great fun trying to work out exactly who is who from story to story. Hugh Grant as a mutant warrior warlord and as a hard-nosed cockney who looks more like one of Harmony Kornine’s Trash Humpers are particularly unintentionally funny. In fact the film is sprinkled with more humor than you may imagine, including one of the more ridiculous escape sequences in recent memory and it’s at these points where this hulking “intelligent” popcorn movie feels like its found its pace. Twyker’s conspiracy tinged 70s and golden 30s sequences stand out overall while the Wachowski’s futuristic anime inspired 2144 is beautiful to look at but it feels so by-the-book in palette after their previous iconic future creations.
Though one has to admire the scale of the film (it is the most expensive independent feature film ever made) it ends up as a quite forgetful shambles. Though Cloud Atlas has garnered its fair share of high-end critics and some super fans (Roger Ebert included) there is sadly something very unremarkable about it all. The few action sequences in the film are so clunking and slow that its hard to imagine the makers of the science fiction film of this generation having anything to do with it at all. There are some fine performances from Wishaw and Broadbent and the 3 hours never feel really laboured mostly because of the often wonderful inter-cutting.
Yes, this is a different beast altogether, a challenging one for sure and a brave attempt to inject some brains into the hollow blockbusters of late but this behemoth slowly collapses under its own space cadet philoso-pomp.