There is no more ambitious, well-intentioned, or wider-reaching movie this season than Cloud Atlas. There is also no more bumbling, frequently inept, and downright bizarre movie this season than Cloud Atlas. Clocking in at nearly three alternately engaging and punishing hours, this gargantuan movie, co-directed by the Wachowskis (Lana and Andy) and Tom Tykwer, is too big and unwieldy to ever really get off the ground. But it's such a gentle giant, such a dumbly lumbering creature that squishes everything in its path with a warm smile, you can't help but feel some affection for the thing. A dreamy if heavy-handed meditation on the connectivity of people and deeds, Cloud Atlas wildly overstates its case, but there's something strangely exhilarating about that wildness. Say what you will about Cloud Atlas' myriad failures and oddities, at least it swings for the fences.
Based on David Mitchell's 2004 novel, Cloud Atlas spans some 500 years of human history, from a Pacific voyage in 1849 to the vaguely post-apocalyptic ("after the fall" is the terminology) 24th century. Mitchell used recurring themes and motifs and callbacks to link his six different time periods together, a subtle technique that is a bit difficult to translate to film. Which isn't to say it can't be done, but it does prove beyond the scope of the Wachowskis, who crafted the large, loud, blunt Matrix pictures, and Tom Tykwer, a grand visualist (Run Lola Run) who struggles when presenting actual feeling (Heaven). Had they perhaps employed a more delicate and precise screenwriter, that person could have woven everything together intimately like threads on a loom. But alas they did not, and so we are left instead with big lumps of crudely modeled clay. (Sorry, this movie has me mixing my metaphors.) As a way to bonk us over the head with the Wonderful Interconnectedness Of It All, the filmmakers chose to cast the same actors in multiple roles; some actors, including the strangely cast Halle Berry and Tom Hanks, play as many as six different characters, a bold if literal choice that proves fascinating to behold as an oddity but disastrous to the film's stabs at profundity.