Do you remember The Matrix? So does everyone who invested in producing or watching any movie directed since by the Wachowski siblings. These people have been proven to be suckers time and again, through two lousy Matrix sequels, a Speed Racer dud and now Cloud Atlas, surely the most incoherent waste of time and money on screen this year.
The movie seems maddeningly, purposefully so, as if Andy and Lana (i.e. Larry after gender reassignment) Wachowski are striving to demolish their careers and any good will engendered by The Matrix. That's their business, I guess, but they needn't drag down fellow flash-in-the-pan Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) in the process. Or actors enticed to blind narcissism by the offer to play multiple roles in varying centuries.
Based on David Mitchell's novel that the movie does nothing to encourage reading, Cloud Atlas is a formless sprawl of constantly bewildering scenes, leap-frogging through time. The filmmakers dare audiences to piece it together, offering few if any reasons to make the effort. Standing alone, none of these clumsily weaved subplots could support anything longer than a short subject. Mashed together, they become three hours of haphazard tedium.
Cloud Atlas' narrative is immune to comprehension, but here goes: Tom Hanks shows up first, looking like he just washed in from Cast Away, as a primitive campfire storyteller. Hanks will return in a few seconds as an archaeologist in 1849 sifting the same beach for artifacts, a minute later as a face-tattooed tribesman in the year take-a-guess. You'll spot him elsewhere, under even heavier makeup and mattering less. I did like Hanks' turn as a hooligan author with a murderous grudge against a book critic, but it's only one scene.
The scene also offers Jim Broadbent's daffy, amusing book publisher in a bind, with a project I believe is based on a character he plays in another elliptical subplot. I can't be certain without a second viewing of Cloud Atlas, but no thanks. Broadbent's alter egos include a dotty composer and a sea captain, leading to Hugh Grant, mostly unrecognizable under overly elaborate latex as a bloodthirsty scalawag and the publisher's cunning brother. Then there's Halle Berry, as the Hanks tribesman's squeeze, a rock journalist in 1973 San Francisco, and a few other aimless roles.
That's just scratching the movie's impenetrable surface. Cloud Atlas is a movie of big ideas — human connectivity, social oppression, violence as solution — but they're haphazardly expressed, although with impressive cinematography, music and cosmetics. The movie repeats messages we're supposed to take home — "I will not be subjected to criminal abuse" and "The weak are meat and the strong do eat" — and becomes the most elaborately self-indulgent bumper sticker ever.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.