Maybe if you’re 20 years old and high in your dorm room with your friends, the platitudes presented in Cloud Atlas might seem profound.
Anyone else in his or her right mind should recognize it for what it is: a bloated, pseudo-intellectual, self-indulgent slog through some notions that are really rather facile.
Ooh, we’re all interconnected and our souls keep meeting up with each other over the centuries, regardless of race, gender or geography. We’re individual drops of water but we’re part of the same ocean.
That is deep, man.
Perhaps it all worked better on the page. Cloud Atlas comes from the best-selling novel of the same name by David Mitchell, which encompasses six stories over 500 years and includes some primitive dialogue in a faraway future.
Sibling directors Lana and Andy Wachowski, working with Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer, have chopped up the various narratives and intercut between them out of order. A-list actors play multiple parts across the various stories and in elaborate makeup that’s often laughable.
Tom Hanks is a scheming doctor on a voyage across the South Pacific in 1849, a trash-talking novelist in present-day London and a peaceful goatherd who’s part of a post-apocalyptic tribe in the 2300s. Halle Berry is a composer’s white trophy wife in 1936 Scotland, an investigative reporter in 1973 San Francisco and a member of an elite society of prescients in the farthest future. Hugh Grant is often the least recognizable of all beneath layers of prosthetics and goop: At one point, he’s a vengeful old man; at another, he’s the raging leader of a band of cannibals.
One easy rule of thumb: If you see Hugo Weaving, you know he’s a bad guy. Except for the story line in which he plays a woman, that is: an oppressive Nurse Ratched figure in a psychiatric hospital.
Maybe the concept of transformation and of connectedness despite the physical vessels we occupy felt especially resonant for the transgender Lana Wachowski, formerly Larry Wachowski. But rather than serving as a satisfying, cohesive device, the multiple-parts strategy feels like a distracting gimmick. It keeps you constantly wondering: “Who is that actor made up to look Asian? Who is that beneath the henna tattoos and macrame?” It takes you out of the heart of the stories and holds you at arm’s length.
Cloud Atlas is ambitious in its scope, for sure — edited fluidly and often wondrous to look at, but totally ineffective from an emotional perspective.
Rated R, 172 minutes.