Cloud Atlas aims for the moon, but narrowly misses
Big has always been beautiful to Lana and Andy Wachowski, writer-directors of the visually stunning Matrix trilogy.
The first instalment of their epic science-fiction saga pushed the boundaries of digital trickery and introduced the slow-motion "bullet time" effect, which has been copied countless times.
The Matrix Reloaded and concluding chapter The Matrix Revolutions married mind-bending meta-physics with big-budget spectacle, with varying degrees of success.
Even when their sprawling vision tied itself in narrative knots, the Wachowskis' determination to expands the horizons of traditional popcorn fodder was refreshing.
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V For Vendetta and a live-action version of Speed Racer were both beautiful messes that dazzled the retina and occasionally fired the mind.
Bold ambition shimmers in every frame of Cloud Atlas, the siblings' chronologically fractured adaptation of David Mitchell's novel, co-directed by Tom Tykwer of Run Lola Run fame.
The multi-layered narrative ricochets between several timeframes in which a starry cast including Halle Berry, James D'Arcy, Hugh Grant, Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving and Ben Whishaw adopt a myriad of guises with the aid of prosthetics and, in Hanks's case, one hilariously strangled accent.
Like the book, the film requires a certain amount of patience as the script sets various plot wheels in motion.
In 1849, lawyer Adam Ewing (Sturgess) discovers a slave called Autua (David Gyasi) stowed aboard a ship bound for America from the Chatham Islands. When Adam falls ill, supposedly as a result of a parasitic worm, Dr Henry Goose (Hanks) rushes to his aid.
In 1936 Cambridge, musician Robert Frobisher (Whishaw) bids farewell to his lover Rufus Sixsmith (D'Arcy) to head to Edinburgh where he will work alongside famous composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent).
The Scottish air inspires Frobisher to compose his celebrated Cloud Atlas Sextet.
In 1973 California, crusading journalist Luisa Rey (Berry) meets an ageing Rufus in a lift, and is drawn into a deadly mystery involving the elderly nuclear physicist and a hit man called Bill Smoke (Weaving).
In present-day London, 65-year-old publisher Timothy Cavendish (Broadbent) falls victim to a vicious prank and becomes trapped in a care home run by the sadistic Nurse Noakes (Weaving).
In 2144 Neo Seoul, genetically engineered fast-food worker Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae) escapes the bonds of servitude and goes on the run with rebel Hae-Joo Chang (Sturgess).
In 2321, Zachry (Hanks) agrees to help technologically advanced visitor Meronym (Berry) head into the mountains to find the Cloud Atlas communication station.
In the far future, these stories gradually knit together...
Cloud Atlas shoots for the moon and narrowly misses.
Production design is jaw-dropping and the cast give their all.
However, some segments including Broadbent's incarceration in the nursing home are superfluous, bloating a languid three-hour running time that will be an endurance test too far for some buttocks.