I found a lot to admire about “Cloud Atlas,” a sci-fi drama based on David Mitchell’s award-winning novel.
Not everybody will.
It’s directed by the Wachowski siblings (“The Matrix”) and Tom Tykwer (“Run, Lola, Run”). The co-directors try your patience, particularly early on in this 2-hour and 50-minute marathon, by throwing six separate story lines at you all at once. And the stories are set in time periods that span 500 years, from 1849 to far into the future.
At first, it’s frustrating to figure out what these stories have to do with each other.
Then you begin to notice big-name stars like Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant are cast in multiple roles, perhaps major in one time period, minor in another.
It’s a makeup tour de force as women sometimes play men, blacks play Asians or Asians play whites. Stay for the credits, which match character photos with each major player, and I guarantee you’ll be surprised to discover who played some parts, under all that makeup.
For an actor, the multiple-role challenge has great appeal. For an audience, it can occasionally take you out of the picture as you notice Hugo Weaving popping up in an unlikely guise or Jim Broadbent switching from wicked to benevolent.
But it’s not just a gimmick. “Cloud Atlas” wraps itself around the idea that all of our lives connect. Each choice we make, whether for selfish ends or toward the common good, affects what follows.
“We cross and recross over old paths like figure skaters,” Broadbent says. And several characters repeat that “our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others.”
The movie doesn’t explicitly embrace reincarnation, but having the actors pop up in new roles underlines the message: In another life, this could be you. We all matter.
The conflict within each of the six stories concerns free expression — of ideas, of art, of truth.
In other words, “Cloud Atlas” is swinging the bat at some really big questions, weaving threads through time until you can at last see fabric as each story peaks.
If you’re not patient, or thinking about life doesn’t appeal to you, this may not be your movie.
Even then, there’s a certain fascination in seeing Hanks appear in one time period as a scheming ship’s doctor, in another as a post-apocalyptic father coping in primitive conditions, or in yet another as a British thug who overreacts to a bad review of his book.
Jim Sturgess and Korean actress Doona Bae are equally impressive, particularly paired in a futuristic world in which she’s a waitress and he leads a rebellion. Broadbent is fun to watch as a contemporary publisher busting out of an old-folks facility and as an aging 1847 composer whose career is revitalized by a young collaborator (Ben Whishaw). The movie gets its name from a piece of classical music that springs from their association.
I waffled between 2.5 and 3 stars for this one, though I’m sure other reviewers will pan it as a failed experiment.
Ah, but at least it was about something, and it found moments to be deeply moving.
Plus it was a kick to see all those famous actors switching hair colors and playing dress-up.
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