“Cloud Atlas” is many things. Perhaps too many things. The new film from directors The Wachowskis and Tom Twyker incorporates a plethora of elements, visions and ideas, several of which are interesting and inspired. Yet it’s almost a treasure hunt to uncover these nuggets of brilliance beneath the tangled mess of six interweaving storylines that utilize many of the same actors to portray completely different characters, only loosely related between segments. There’s very little rhyme or reason as to which roles each actor encompasses, other than Hugo Weaving predominantly playing the villain. Such usage of great actors can easily enhance a film, but here many moments recall Lemony Snicket rather than “The Wizard of Oz.” The connections between each story are also rather trivial and insubstantial and their overarching correlations lack impact and clarity. The profound ultimate moment that is so desperately needed never arrives and the audience is left embarking on a journey whose conclusion can’t match the supremely ambitious premise.
Transcending time and place, the lives of numerous people intertwine throughout countless years with reverberating actions and consequences for each. Zachry (Tom Hanks), a valleysman in a land both futuristic and prehistoric, must guide a mysterious traveler (Halle Berry) across a mountainous region long thought damned. In 1849, a lawyer (Jim Sturgess) makes a treacherous passage back across the ocean at the close of his latest assignment only to encounter a duplicitous doctor and a stowaway slave. In dystopian Neo Seoul, an enslaved “fabricant” diner server (Doona Bae) is rescued from her laborious existence by a young rebel intent on changing their corrupted world. In 1930’s England, an ambitious composer (Ben Whishaw) attempts to create his own masterpiece while attempting to unlock the potential of his mentor. In 1970’s San Francisco, a tenacious journalist (Halle Berry) determines to uncover a massive conspiracy. And a bungling publisher (Jim Broadbent) in modern day London must escape wrongful imprisonment by an authoritarian nursing home. Though many of them never meet, they are all connected through time by their struggles for freedom, survival and love.
If it’s not bad enough that there are too many stories chopped up and spliced throughout a grueling three-hour runtime, every story severely lacks significance. Each one is generic, highly derivative (going so far as to mention the name of the hijacked movie in one segment), straightforward, and meandering. It’s neither serpentine nor confusing to keep track of the various plots, but simply inconsequential. The initial storytelling distortion might hold interest for a while, but halfway through, will likely spark fidgetiness – the borrowed similarities to superior films, the drastic nature of tonal and visual shifts, and the uninspired special effects eventually converge on tiresome.
“Cloud Atlas” tries too hard to be everything all at once – and may fool many audiences into believing that this makes it epic. Rolling together the genres of action/adventure, murder/mystery, romance, science-fiction, comedy, and more with themes of exploration, escape, survival, interpreting truths, religion, unity for rebellion, strength versus weakness, fate, and destiny to establish connection and transcendence despite maximal contrast is bold but tedious. Added to this is a mildly humorous spoof of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” a pathetic twist on the Nadsat language of Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange,” a return to the excruciating ideas from “The Island,” and elaborate makeup that serves to distract more often than compliment. While the prosthetics and makeup effects are nicely achieved, their overboard presentation beckons thoughts of the goofiness of “The Nutty Professor,” “White Chicks,” or “Kind Hearts and Coronets” over something more authentic, like “The Iron Lady,” “Frida,” or “Elizabeth.” Audiences will spend more time trying to figure out who is hiding under all that latex than digesting dialogue or grasping revelations.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)