Tom Hanks delivers a half-dozen performances in Cloud Atlas, all of them embarrassing. One minute he’s cackling and capering as a bearded, seafaring doctor in 1849; the next he’s wrapping his tongue around the Creole-inflected nonsense slang of a postapocalyptic future. However misguided, the actor’s scenery-chewing, makeup-abetted shtick is very much in sync with the spirit of this New Agey, centuries-spanning epic from the Wachowskis and Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer.
All the major cast members, not just Hanks, are on multicharacter dress-up duty: We get Hugh Grant as both a corporate slimeball and a whispering Morlock shaman, while Halle Berry plays a muckraking reporter and – in one of several vaguely creepy racial makeovers – the white trophy wife of Jim Broadbent’s tyrannical composer.
The past-lives plot comes courtesy of David Mitchell’s ‘unfilmable’ best-seller, a novel. Amid the crosscutting fervour, there are stray flares of inspiration. Tykwer has some fun with the car chases and murder-mystery mechanics of his ’70s paranoid thriller segment. The Wachowskis, meanwhile, work their Matrix mojo during the sleek dystopian passages, with Bae Doona as a clone whose revolutionary rhetoric echoes through the ages.
It’s next to impossible to invest in any of these abbreviated adventures. Best to just embrace the absurdity, as when Hanks’ thuggish British author throws a literary critic over a balcony to his death – a scene that must hold some cathartic value for the directors of Speed Racer and 3. The best revenge, they forget, is making movies well.