Before its release, Cloud Atlas was screened at the 2012 International Toronto Film Festival. When it ended, it received a standing ovation for an astounding ten minutes. Roger Ebert gave it a perfect score and MovieBob has proclaimed its success as a product to be nothing short of miraculous.
Now that I have seen the film for myself, I can tell you that the above two gentlemen have not a shred of exaggeration in their expression. This is not your conventional run-of-the-mill sci-fi blockbuster. Cloud Atlas is groundbreaking in every sense of the word. Lana & Andy Wachowski, in collaboration with Tom Tykwer (pronounced ‘Teek-ver’) have taken a David Mitchell novel that almost no reader would think re-creating to be possible, invested a tremendous amount of money, blood, sweat, skin, and tears in the production of it, and have released a finished product that is an absolutely fantastic work of art.
The ambition behind the making of this film is on par with the making of The Avengers. Cloud Atlas is six separate stories, all of which are neatly yet very subtly interwoven. That’s why the film is so long (164 minutes). However, the film is paced in a way that makes it impossible to be bored. It engages you without overtly trying to grip you. It shows; it does not tell. It doesn’t bog itself down even for a minute in attempt to explain the story to you. It refuses to coddle the viewer because it understands that once you get what this film is trying to do, you’ll be all the happier for it.
The secret to the structural success of Cloud Atlas is its juxtaposition. The film is edited to meticulous perfection. Every frame is important. All six of the stories are linear and extremely varied in tone, yet they are simultaneously shared in a single powerful narrative with the core themes at the very forefront. The sextet is broken down into the following stories:
- 1849 – An ocean journey undertaken by a rich lawyer on his way home to his family.
- 1931 – The struggles of a musician apprenticing a famous composer.
- 1975 – The investigation of a journalist in the corrupt dealings of an oil corporation.
- 2012 – A British comedy about the troubles of a former publisher.
- 2144 – A dystopian Equilibrium-esque sci-fi thriller in Seoul, Korea.
- 2346 – A post-apocalyptic tale of tribal warfare.
Cloud Atlas flips back and forth very casually between all six of these stories and makes them work with each other. I don’t think there’s ever been a movie in the history of movies that has done something like that to an avail so emotionally profound.
But here’s the kicker. Cloud Atlas isn’t just a film with an unprecedented structure. The main cast is a whopping 13 actors. Each actor plays a different character and a different role in every story. Some actors play the hero in one story and the villain in another. Some actors switch genders; other actors switch races. The makeup artistry behind this film is incredible. Cloud Atlas is sure to be nominated for a myriad of Academy Awards, but the one I can almost guarantee it will win is Best Makeup. During the credits, you’ll see who the actors all played. Mind = blown.
Finally, this movie is great because of Tom Hanks. I know people have mixed feelings about him, and the good news is, if you don’t like one character he portrays, all you have to do is wait a few minutes for the film to switch to another one. But let me put it this way. There is a reason Hanks has 2 Best Actor Oscars. You will be reminded of why when in the 6th story, he gives one of the best acting performances in his entire career.
Cloud Atlas is everything a modern film should be: new, ambitious, gorgeous, engaging, deep, and amazingly gratifying. It is without question one of the best films of 2012 and a must-see for everyone. Five stars.