'Cloud Atlas' is occasionally exhilarating but mostly confusing (+trailer)

'Cloud Atlas' features a large cast, and it's fun to spot who's who. But the mash-up plot of 'Cloud Atlas' is largely exasperating.

Jay Maidment/Warner Bros. Pictures/AP
'Cloud Atlas' stars Tom Hanks (l.) and Halle Berry (r.), both playing many roles.

David Mitchell’s notoriously unfilmable 500-plus-page 2004 novel, “Cloud Atlas,” has, inevitably, been filmed, and by no less than Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”) and siblings Lana and Andy Wachowski (“The Matrix” movies). The result is maddening, exasperating, occasionally exhilarating – and mostly boring.

Mitchell’s novel chronicles multiple stories from widely different eras past to future. The movie is far less chronological in its approach, weaving story lines willy-nilly in a way that is meant to illustrate the interconnectivity of life but too often comes across like a mash-up. We are dropped into the Pacific Islands in 1849; into 1936 Cambridge, England; San Francisco in 1973;  London in 1912; a futuristic “New Seoul"; and a post-apocalyptic Hawaii.

The same actors keep reappearing in different guises – different latex – and it’s fun, for a while, to pick out the peekaboo cameos. Among their many make-overs, Hugh Grant plays a cannibal warrior, Tom Hanks is a Hawaiian tribesman, and Halle Berry is a crusading journalist and 24th century tribal warrior. Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Susan Sarandon, Hugo Weaving, and many others show up as well, looking almost as confounded as we are. Grade: C (Rated R for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use.)

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