Cloud Atlas is quite a feat. The web-of-life epic, based on David Mitchell’s novel and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer, is composed of six separate storylines, set in time periods ranging from the 19th century to the present to an obscure post-apocalyptic future.
On a technical level, Cloud Atlas is mighty impressive. Gorgeous, even. Tykwer and the Wachowskis construct a film that elaborately constructs multiple worlds, each beautiful in its own distinct way, and meshes them together smoothly in a way that transcends genre. The mood can switch from cutesy and idealistic to brutal and survival-driven without skipping a beat. For most of the 164-minute running time, the pace of the film is well-maintained, but some storylines are invariably more entertaining (Jim Broadbent’s humorous adventures in contemporary Britain) or demanding of the viewer (tribesmen in a futuristic Hawaii who speak semi-intelligible English) than others. Eventually, all blend together into a tapestry offering a commentary on humanity’s core values and motivations.
For all the talent behind set design and special effects, this is still mainly an actor’s movie, featuring an ensemble cast, the central members of which play different characters in multiple storylines. In the first portions of the film, the viewer cannot help but play Spot the Heavily Made-Up Tom Hanks or Halle Berry. I haven’t seen a satisfying leading performance by Hanks since 2007’s Charlie Wilson’s War, but he makes up for lost time by flawlessly adopting six identities throughout the film. In short, it’s quite a lot to digest, but as long as you can keep up with it, Cloud Atlas will affect you in a deep way, motivating you to show your love to those you care about, become more accepting of other humans as your spiritual equals, or at least watch the entire movie again to see if you can understand it better.