Cloud Atlas (15)


Dirs: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski

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With: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Ben Whishaw

Running time: 171 minutes

WHILE engaged in the near three-hour whirl across time and place that is Cloud Atlas, words such as "mystical", "audacious" and "labyrinthine" might soar and burst like comets in your mind. Others may prefer a term that featured in the Olympics opening ceremony: bonkers.

If it was good enough for Dizzee Rascal and MC The Queen, it is apt enough for this adaptation of the David Mitchell novel by the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer.

Some will think the directors were bonkers to even make the attempt. Some would be right, but that is not the same as saying it was wrong. Like dancing with the dog, or supporting Scotland's football team, Cloud Atlas is the epitome of deranged, but it is somehow comforting to live in a movie universe where deranged still has a home.

Here sits a department store of tales to choose from. On the first floor it is 1849 and a naive lawyer has become entangled with a hustling medic; floor two, set in the 1930s, features a composer in pursuit of a symphony; three climbs to the 1970s and an investigative reporter tangling with big business; four is set in 2012; five in 2144 in a place called Neo Seoul; and six takes the story to 2321 and 2346.

As to what binds the stories, there is, as one character says, a method to the madness. In short, each life influences another, with kindness and cruelty cascading down the years. (In philosophical terms, this is known as the My Name is Earl theory.)

To play all the parts, a cast led by Halle Berry and Tom Hanks don dozens of prosthetic layers, to mostly ridiculous effect. One might say that such is the screen presence of Ms Berry and Mr Hanks that there is no such thing as too much of either. Would that the same could be said of Hugh Grant.

Some stories work better than others. Jim Broadbent is great fun as a shady publisher in the 2012 yarn, while James D'Arcy and Ben Whishaw are handsome turns in every sense as the star-crossed lovers in 1936 Edinburgh. Berry does such a first-rate job as a reporter that one wishes she had a film all to herself (and those scenes shot in Glasgow, doubling for San Francisco, work a treat). The futuristic, Neo Seoul tale of a worker drone who finds a voice turns out to be the most moving segment, and the one with the best special effects. Who needs prosthetics when you have the Wachowskis back to their Matrix best?

That leaves the duds – the period caper about the lawyer, and the last tale, in which the world has collapsed into such a state everyone speaks gibberish. Four out of six ain't bad.

Put like that, perhaps Cloud Atlas is not so bonkers after all. Mind you, there is that running length...