Three directors, six plots and a dozen actors playing more than 60 roles -- "Cloud Atlas" is nothing if not ambitious. This three-hour epic spanning 500 years is impossible to summarize, but you could start with the tagline on the poster: "Everything is connected."
That's the squishy, cosmic notion at the center of this visually sumptuous, audaciously acted but only vaguely meaningful film. Written and directed by the Wachowskis ("The Matrix") and Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run") from David Mitchell's 2004 novel, "Cloud Atlas" is essentially a patchwork of narratives quilted together with minor coincidences and recurring symbolism. The hope is that you'll gape at the grand tapestry and overlook the seams.
"Cloud Atlas" certainly delivers bang for your buck: One ticket buys you several genres and an astoundingly versatile cast. Many actors change ages and races, and some change genders (as has director Lana Wachowski, who used to be Larry). Two A-listers, Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, play six characters apiece, including two who meet in the 1970s (he's a scientist, she's a reporter) and again in the 2300s (a humble goatherd, an all-knowing clairvoyant). Both are fine, though Hanks' futuristic pidgin English sounds better than his current-day Cockney.
The best actors are on the undercard. Ben Whishaw is wonderful as a bisexual gallivanting through the 1930s; Jim Broadbent provides welcome comic relief as a man imprisoned in a senior center; Hugo Weaving, James D'Arcy and a consistently surprising Hugh Grant split 15 colorful roles. But Doona Bae and Jim Sturgess, as sci-fi revolutionaries, are reduced to props in a hokey laser battle, while Susan Sarandon, in several small parts, seems underused.
So how is everything connected? Several characters share a star-shaped birthmark, but that's about it. You could say "Cloud Atlas" is a movie about everything, but that's the same as a movie about nothing.
PLOT An epic tale of six lives that intertwine across pasts, presents and futures RATING R (violence, language, sexuality)
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE Sumptuous visuals and audacious acting, but the quasi-profound message of cosmic connectedness isn't worth all the trouble.
For Hugo Weaving, it's a big world after all
Look at the cast lists for many of the big-budget films released in the 21st century and you would probably find Hugo Weaving's name.
Since playing the cold Agent Smith in "The Matrix" trilogy, he's been part of the trilogies for "The Lord of the Rings," "Transformers" and "The Hobbit," plus other blockbusters like "Captain America: The First Avenger" and "V for Vendetta."
Weaving was content to do small films but was drawn into the mega-movie world by invitation. The directing Wachowski siblings contacted Weaving's agent about "The Matrix" after seeing his work in the small-budget movies "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" and "Proof." That was the first of many Wachowski films on which Weaving has worked.
Starring in "Cloud Atlas" threw an acting challenge at Weaving like none he's had before because the film looks at how a single story unfolds through a 500-year span, with characters meeting and reuniting through each reincarnated life.
"Anything I do, the challenge is to do as much preparation and be as focused as I can, and be as informed about the particular project and the psyche of the individual character you are playing," Weaving says. "Once that's there, you have to remain open and free to the impulses of the day coming from the other actors and the director." -- Fresno Bee