Tom Hanks and Halle Berry star in "Cloud Atlas," an epic spanning centuries and genres. (Jay Maidment / Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)
Rated R for violence, language, sexuality/brief nudity and drug use.
The grandly ambitious "Cloud Atlas," based on a 2004 novel by David Mitchell, has moments of brilliantly soaring transcendence. Just not nearly enough.
Far more numerous are moments of head-scratching obtuseness.
The film features interesting work from top actors in multiple roles, among them Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant. And some of the visuals are eye-popping in their grace and beauty.
But the potentially intriguing, multithread story becomes an opaque, three-hour grind that leaves you asking: "Is that it?"
The driving forces are the Wachowskis, makers of "The Matrix" trilogy (teaming up here with German director Tom Twyker).
So it's no shock that "Cloud Atlas" follows a creative arc similar to that of "The Matrix" films: brilliant opening salvo, decent second act and a finale that shows the Wachowskis had no clue how to bring this sucker home.
The official "Cloud Atlas" synopsis: "An epic story … in which the actions and consequences of our lives impact one another throughout the past, present and future as one soul is shaped from a murderer into a savior and a single act of kindness ripples out for centuries to inspire a revolution."
It helps a wee bit to be armed with that nugget going in. But the movie still plays out in much more convoluted fashion than the above verbiage implies.
It's built as six distinct stories in different settings and eras, with the same actors popping up in different roles. The scenarios:
A rich young man (Jim Sturgess) and a runaway slave (David Gyasi) aboard a sailing ship on an 1849 Pacific voyage.
Two tragically fated gay lovers (Ben Whishaw and James D'Arcy) and a cranky, aging symphonic composer (Broadbent) in pre-World War II England.
A crusading journalist (Berry), a shady energy company CEO (Grant) and his top scientist (Hanks) in 1970s San Francisco.
A harried book publisher (Broadbent) and his rough-edged, working-class novelist client (Hanks) in 2012 London.
A slave (Doona Bae) and a resistance fighter (Sturgess) in 2144 Korea (by far the most visually creative scenario).
A shepherd (Hanks) and an explorer (Berry) in a post-apocalyptic time described as "106 winters after the Fall."
The movie frenetically cuts among the tales every couple of minutes an initially effective gimmick that builds anticipation.
But into the second hour, the gimmick starts to feel a little … gimmicky. And you realize this flick isn't packing insights any more mind-blowing than the facile movie-poster mantra: "Everything is connected."
Three hours to tell me that?
"Cloud Atlas" is the kind of flick likely to develop a cult following eager to spend long hours seeking deep meaning from every nuance.
But even among viewers with a heightened appetite for mystical-flavored whimsy, many may find it a tiresome slog.