By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There’s a cloud over this atlas, all right. No surprise there, given that this just-under-three-hour epic offers half a dozen stories that keep interrupting each other.
The interconnectedness of souls is the highfalutin’ theme of Cloud Atlas. Now if only the film could actually connect with us.
It is, let’s see, now… a fragmented science-fiction fantasy adventure based on the novel of the same name.
What it also is is handsome, challenging, impressive, unusual, absorbing, and ambitious.
What it is not, however, is involving, exciting, pleasurable, provocative, satisfying, or memorable.
The ensemble cast, including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, and Jim Sturgess, portray multiple characters each, up to as many as half a dozen apiece, some of them very much against type or age or gender or race — sometimes in makeup and prosthetics that render them unrecognizable — in tales that involve World War II England, 19th-century slave trading, 1970s corruption, post-apocalyptic Hawaii, the 24th century, and so on.
And what’s demonstrated in this sprawling mosaic -– a mix of adventure, comedy, thriller, action, and romance — is the impact across space and time that some acts, good or bad, have on others.
Cloud Atlas is based on the six seemingly unrelated but interwoven tales about oppression and rebellion of one sort or another set in the past, present, and future in the 2004 book by David Mitchell, but they’re presented as part of a single, unified storyline examining courage and betrayal in different ways and times and places.
Co-written and co-directed by Andy and Lana (formerly Larry) Wachowski (the Matrix trilogy, Speed Racer) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run; Perfume, The Story of a Murderer), the film parades its ideas but never gets us to care about the characters. Maybe they’re just not up there long enough.
Ultimately, we ask ourselves whether any of the six stories holds enough in the way of narrative interest or fascination to hold up as its own movie. The answer is, maybe. We’ll never know.
But the jumble of tales and ceaseless crosscutting doesn’t pull us in in the way intended, much as we appreciate the moviemaking skills on display.
Ultimately, this is a noble attempt at a truly different mode of storytelling. But it’s also true that the resulting omnibus is neither engaging nor affecting, and that watching six movies at once is mostly an exercise in TOOMUCHNESS.
We end up impressed that the triumvirate of directors has filmed the unfilmable even as we wonder why, and to what effect. (Because they could, I suppose?)
So we’ll connect 2½ stars out of 4 for the dense but not intense sextet of stories, Cloud Atlas. It’s absolutely an accomplishment. But although it’s not a bore, it is a chore.