(NEW YORK) -- Cloud Atlas could be one of the most polarizing movies of the year. Based on the best selling 2004 novel by David Mitchell, the Wachowski siblings (the Matrix trilogy) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) set out to adapt a book many considered un-adaptable for the big screen. It's a story that takes places over hundreds of years with many different characters but they're all connected -- reincarnated, if you will, until they get IT (life) right.
To try and explain every vignette would require a review the length of a screenplay, so we'll keep it simple.
Cloud Atlas begins several hundred years hence in a post-apocalyptic future, jumps back to the 17th century, cuts to the 1970s, rewinds to the early 1930s, fast-forwards to now, leaps forward to the 22nd century…that’s how this movie unfolds: back and forth, forth and back, sideways, backward, upward and downward, but never straightforward.
Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess and Hugh Grant play six different characters each. Jim Broadbent plays five, while some of the other cast members, like Susan Sarandon and Keith David, play four characters. It was a daring and challenging decision by the filmmakers but also an admirable artistic choice. The intention is to allow the audience to see each particular soul on its journey through time, which is easier to do when you recognize the soul being played by the same actor. In some cases it’s also a nice message, ignoring gender, age and nationality by having a man play a woman, American and British actors plays Asian, Asian actors play Caucasian and mostly young actors play elderly.
The casting conceit doesn’t always work, though -- on occasion, it's simply distracting and Cloud Atlas is a film that doesn’t need distractions. Its unique, time-bending, non-linear narrative is difficult enough to keep up with. Coupled with actors playing multiple characters, the entire affair risks coming across as arrogant, snobbish even. But the film is as much about just three people -- the Wachowskis and Tykwer -- who actually have something to say about the human condition.
The strength of Cloud Atlas is its sheer beauty, its spirit, and some of the performances. The film's weakness is the filmmakers' overzealousness to make the myriad pieces fit within the context of the story, which lasts about 20 minutes too long.
Still, give the Wachowskis and Tykwer credit. It's easy to see, without having read Cloud Atlas, that the source material must be complex.
Five stars for the effort; three-and-a-half out of five for the results.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio