Written and directed by Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer
Warner Bros. Pictures • Rated R
By Ed Symkus
When’s the last time a movie left you exhausted, wowed, maybe a little befuddled, and ready to see it again, right away? I ran that question through my head, and came up with Inception, Being John Malkovich, Strange Days, Brazil, Requiem for a Dream, and O Lucky Man!
Now it’s happened to me again. But first, some background: I’d never heard of David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas, nor had I seen any trailers for the film. All I knew was that the Wachowskis, who made the Matrix trilogy, had teamed up with Tom Tykwer, who made Run Lola Run, to co-direct it.
Here’s the clincher. Here’s how I know Cloud Atlas has already been inked onto my upcoming top 10 list. Early on the morning of September 8, at the Toronto Film Festival, I went to a screening of The Master. Just after lunch I saw Seven Psychopaths, followed almost immediately by the yet-unreleased, sprawling documentary London – The Modern Babylon. Two hours later I witnessed the opening moments of Cloud Atlas.
Its running time is just under three hours. Three mesmerizing hours. But even without the drain of seeing three films before it, I would have been exhausted, wowed, befuddled, ready to see it again.
I’ve since read the great book, and am happy to say that, rarity of rarities, the movie is about as near a perfect adaptation as you can get. And I’ve now seen the sensational five-minute trailer, easily found on YouTube.
Truth be told, even if you’ve read the book and seen the trailer, the movie is going to be a challenge, but one that you’ll be rewarded for taking. Mainly because the challenge is there only until you get into the rhythm of what’s going on.
Like the book, it’s made up of six stories in one, all of them taking place in different time periods and different locales; all of them loosely, very loosely, related; all of them, if you buy the premise, sharing some sort of universality, suggesting that everyone and everything is related to everyone and everything, that we all somehow share a common bond.
Beyond (mostly) specific dates – 1849, 1936, 1973, 2012, 2144, “106 winters after The Fall,” and the names of some places, there’s no real assist from the filmmakers in understanding exactly what’s going on. You just have to let go, literally go with the flow of it. Don’t worry about being able to watch one story, jump to another one, flip over to a couple more, return to one, get back to another.
The thing is, these stories also take pretty darn big leaps between genres. Cloud Atlas works brilliantly as thriller, romance, historical drama, sci-fi epic … hell, I must be leaving out a few.
Hold on, it gets more complicated. Like one of my above favorites, Lindsay Anderson’s fabulous 1973 film O Lucky Man! there’s some mighty odd dallying with the cast. In that film and this one, the actors have multiple roles. I’m not sure if I kept accurate count, but I believe in Cloud Atlas, Tom Hanks , Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, and Wachowski favorite Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith in The Matrix series) play six parts, Jim Broadbent plays five, and various other actors play various others. Let’s hear it for the makeup department and for actors successfully tackling differences in vocal delivery and body language. Hot tip: Wait for the end credits for a visual explanation of who each actor was playing.
There are great dramatic character arcs within each story, a wild mix of action and visual effects that, when called for, is furious, and there’s even a great head butt! This is nothing short of a big, swirling masterpiece. I really am ready to see it again and then, perhaps, again.