“A radiant festival of prescience” was how one particularly pretentious critic described David Mitchell’s Booker winning novel Cloud Atlas. Now the Wachowski Brothers and Tom Tykwer have directed a massively expensive, near three hour film version of this magnum opus, and quite frankly it is every bit as shallow and tedious as the book. It represents a colossal waste of money and talent for all concerned.
The book at least had a modicum of literary interest in that the six interweaving stories are written in six very different styles, each benefiting the genre within which they are roughly adhering to – from historical epic to drama, conspiracy thriller, black comedy, futuristic science fiction and post apocalypse science fiction. But as with the novel, of these only one – the hilarious Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish – really has any entertainment value. The rest are woven together by a ponderous and unconvincing reincarnation theme, which pretends to be terribly profound when in fact it is about as deep as a saucer. Oh, there are terribly worthy and serious recurrent themes to be sure – slavery, deception and the nature of mankind to repeat terrible mistakes over and over again – but nothing more insightful is offered beyond the blindingly obvious (eg slavery is bad). The depiction of obvious karmic retribution for past life misdeeds because something of a yawn fest to say the least.
Despite a very starry cast deployed in multiple roles across different timelines – including Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, Susan Sarandon and Jim Sturgess – none of the performances are more than adequate. In fact, there is hardly any dramatic fire at all, save a few moments with Whishaw and Broadbent as a gay composer and very unlucky publisher respectively. The film as a whole isn’t terrible exactly, it just feels really, really flat (and long). Here I should probably add the usual warnings about sex, violence and bad language, though if you’re likely to be offended by such things, you’ll probably be too bored to care.
In short, this is a textbook example of a film that looked amazing from the trailer, but like the novel turned out to be dull, pretentious, headache-inducing drivel. The Emperor has no clothes.