Film review: Cloud Atlas (15)

Twisty lengths of yarn, chunkily knitted

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The Independent Culture

Adapted from David Mitchell's 2004 novel, Cloud Atlas cross-cuts between six stories. The Wachowskis, creators of the Matrix trilogy, directed three of them: the one about the Conradesque awakening of a young American lawyer (Jim Sturgess) on a 19th- century slave ship; the one that looks like Blade Runner, about a "fabricant" who rebels against the tyrannical corporatocracy of 22nd-century "New Seoul"; and the one in which Tom Hanks and Halle Berry speak the garbled, Nadsat-like language of the post-civilisation tribes of 24th-century Hawaii.

Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) directed the one about a young gay composer (Ben Whishaw) in 1930s Cambridge; the 1970s paranoid thriller bit; and the only humorous section, about Jim Broadbent's mock- heroic escapades in a sinister English nursing home. Most of the actors play a part in each story, and some characters are reincarnations of others. But this is not a Guillermo Arriaga film, and its narrative jigsaw does not fit neatly together.

Instead, cute visual and thematic synchronicities echo across generations, and the story strands are all wrapped up in the same grand ideas about truth, beauty, love, free will and liberation. It is unwieldy, and in lots of ways – notably, all of the prosthetic make-up and the whole of the 24th- century story – it is goofy. But it is also technically virtuosic, and never boring. And while some critics have been turned off by how earnest it is, such grand ambitions and such lack of cynicism actually make a refreshing sight in the multiplex.