Cloud Atlas

Directed By: Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, and Andy Wachowski

Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D'Arcy, Zhou Xun, Keith David, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant

"Our lives are not our own.  From womb to tomb, we are bound to others, past and present.  And by each crime, and every kindness, we birth our future."
-Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae) / Abbess (Susan Sarandon)

Ambition is the word of the day thanks to Cloud Atlas and its grand exploration of the connections between humans across time and space.  The epic adventure film directed by Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, and Andy Wachowski is one of the most ambitious films to be made in years.  Independently financed and costing more than $100 million dollars to produce, the film is unlikely to make a profit.  That being said, I absolutely have to respect what these three directors have accomplished here.  In Cloud Atlas, they've crafted a gorgeous, genius movie that meshes compelling, thought-provoking content with big budget filmmaking.

Cloud Atlas is a film that is hard to describe.  It's a tale of six interconnected stories across multiple lifetimes.  First, we have the Pacific journal of Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) and his adventures on the seas with Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks) and self-freed slave Autua (David Gyasi).  We have the letters from Zedelghem in which aspiring composer Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) tells his lover Rufus Sixsmith (James D'Arcy) of his life with legendary composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent).  We also have a 1970s mystery of Luisa Rey (Halle Berry), a reporter bent on uncovering the truth behind a good story no matter what the cost.

In present day England, we have the story of publisher Timothy Cavendish (Broadbent) and his times with his brother Denholme (Hugh Grant) and his hothead writer Dermot Hoggins (Hanks) that eventually lead him to a nursing home.  We also have the futuristic tale of Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae), her lover Hae-Joo Chang (Sturgess) and the revolution against Unanimity in Neo Seoul. Finally, we have the story of Zachry (Hanks) and Meronym (Berry) as they cross the Sloosha Mountains.  Ultimately, all these stories are connected and demonstrate how actions can reverberate throughout lifetimes and lead to the revolution in Neo Seoul and beyond.

I'm having trouble finding the words to explain how amazing Cloud Atlas is.  There's no word that really encapsulates it.  It's an example of masterful layered storytelling at its best.  It's such a complex film built upon multiple stories, many genres, and numerous overarching themes.  It's incredible that a film of this magnitude could be made.  It's a really daunting task and I have to commend everyone associated in any way, shape, or form with the making of this movie.  Cloud Atlas is an outstanding piece of work.

Life.  Death.  Freedom.  Truth.  Interconnectedness.  These concepts all have one thing in common.  They demonstrate how complex Cloud Atlas is thematically.  Above all these themes, the most evident concept throughout the film is the natural order of things and how conventions serve as boundaries.  To touch upon all these themes and more, the Wachowskis and Tykwer interweave these six stories in a way that thematically connects each narrative.  It allows them to hammer home these concepts with powerful storytelling and incredibly rich dialogue.

I have to also credit the directing trio and their crew for creating several beautiful worlds in this thrilling film.  From the make-up and set design to the visual effects and the musical score, there's a lot of production that went into bringing each of these tales to life.  The make-up and set design are definitely critical, especially for the range of characters each actor is portraying and the tales that take place in the past.  The visual effects really become paramount during the futuristic tales in Neo Seoul and Sloosha.  The musical selections throughout the film just underscore the overall beauty of the film.  Because of all these efforts, Cloud Atlas is not just another movie.  It's a cinematic experience for all (especially in IMAX).

As a rule of thumb, anytime Tom Hanks is in a movie that's more than two and a half hours, you know it's going to be something good.  Add Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving and a host of other great actors, and you don't have just a stellar cast.  You have a great movie.  Each actor really gets to showcase his or her talents because each principal cast member portrays nearly half a dozen characters throughout the film.  This is meaningful because it means that each of these actors have to build a connection with the audience several times throughout the film.  The fact that they pull this off is quite impressive.  Stick around during the credits to see just how many characters these actors portrayed in Cloud Atlas.

While all the cast members give great performances, there are always standouts.  Tom Hanks and Halle Berry are obviously phenomenal and really get to demonstrate their range as performers.  The real standouts in Cloud Atlas though are Jim Broadbent and Hugo Weaving.  Whether protagonist Timothy Cavendish, antagonist Vyvyan Ayrs, or whomever else he's portraying at a given moment in the movie, Broadbent brings a certain charm to the film that's undeniable.  He captivates like no other whenever he's on screen.  On the other hand, it's always great to see Hugo Weaving doing his thing as a villain.  There‚Äôs a certain coldness that he brings to each of his characters.  Portraying an assassin, the devil, a slave owner, and several other characters, Weaving gets to be the badass we love throughout the film. 

Admittedly, Cloud Atlas is a film that requires us to be mentally sharp, and we'll all probably need second and third viewings to fully understand the depth of the film.   After three hours of letting these directors blow my mind, I honestly wanted more.  I'm ready for those second and third viewings right now.  That's the mark of greatness.  Visually stunning, consistently captivating, and profoundly beautiful, Cloud Atlas is an incredible piece of filmmaking.  This epic tale of life gets a sober rating.  Don't miss this one.