Directed by Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer
As a plausible solution to realizing the nested narratives of David Mitchell’s 2004 nightstand-warmer, this two-and-half-hour feature adaptation is not the worst imaginable. Cloud Atlas The Major Motion Picture shuffles among the meager storylines/settings—a colonial slavery saga, a futuristic corporate dystopia, a 70s paranoid gumshoe story, a drawing-room romance of musical rivalry, some caper involving a railroaded editor, and, coming full circle, a postapocalyptic return to prehistoric tribalism—with an impressive hit rate for visual matches, editorial cross-referencing, and occasional humor. If it’s not the book, it’s a little like keeping six mediocre books going at once—or finger-bookmarking multiple pages in a Choose Your Own Adventure.
That said, the excess becomes folly thanks to a poverty of both imagination and means in populating these multiple worlds. Lacking the gloss of Inception or the overload of a multi-panel silent epic, Cloud Atlas practically makes you yearn for Quantum Leap with its chintzy production, makeup that fails laugh tests, Tom Hanks hamming his way through history, and, disappointing from the Matrix puppetmasters, derivative visions of the future. Gawping at Hugo Weaving in racial makeup, spotting Hugh Grant, or giggling at Jim Broadbent’s scruffy Brit-oldster antics goes only so far; where comic-strip aesthetics once would be a compliment for the Wachowskis, no longer.
The dispiriting payoff for these interminable adventures is the kind of love-conquers-all cant of universal bonds that was streaked through the Matrix nightmares. At least the Wachowskis (and it’s possible to focus on them because, though all three cowrote the screenplay over two years, Tykwer reportedly supervised direction only on the worst sections) are true believers enough to make their orchestrated glowstick-of-the-human-spirit finales feel uncynical. And perhaps a resulting rash of pseudo-literary era-hopping smorgasbords would be an entertaining addition to multiplex lineups.
Opens October 26