David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
We meet our lovers in the Bahamas. Jared (Paul Walker) is a dive bum looking for his big break. Samantha (Jessica Alba) Jared's devoted girlfriend is happy handling sharks at the Atlantis resort and living with her man in a trailer on an idyllic beach. Wouldn't we all? Except maybe the shark part. When Jared's best bud Bryce (Scott Caan) shows up with a new girlfriend Amanda (Ashley Scott) things get a little dicey. It starts off when the four divers discover a legendary shipwreck rumored to contain millions in gold. Soon visions of wealth and greed are swimming in their heads. But also nearby on the ocean floor is a sunken plane full of cocaine. Uh-oh. The friends make a pact to keep quiet about both discoveries so they can excavate the shipwreck and claim it before a rival treasure hunter Bates (Josh Brolin) can beat them to it. Of course their plan goes awry as plans are wont to do. The nefarious smugglers looking for their underwater stash are lurking about. So Bryce and Amanda come up with a new plan of their own. You know nothing good is going to come of this.
Into the Blue is a perfect vehicle for its four lead hotties especially Walker. He's at best when he doesn't have to say too much and can just stand there looking buff and beautiful. At least Walker has played it pretty smart with his career up to this point. He's so far resisted trying on an accent and doing a period drama content being the pretty boy who makes action movies such as The Fast and the Furious and its sequel. And that's just fine by us. As his sultry paramour Alba--who's having quite a year with Sin City and Fantastic Four under her belt--isn't required to do much either but look stunning in her scantily clad wardrobe. She'll no doubt be the reason most of the male population will flock to see this. But when it comes down to protecting herself from the bad guys she can also wield a pretty mean machete. Her Sam has got a lot of guts evoking images of her character in the ill-fated TV show Dark Angel. Rounding out the cast is Scott (Alba's Dark Angel co-star) as the lanky Amanda a squirrelly girl with her own agenda and Caan as the snarky Bryce. The Ocean's Eleven actor is great at playing the hothead you want to slap for being so clueless but who grows on you nonetheless.
Into the Blue tells us that there is $6 billion worth of buried treasure in the world's oceans just waiting to be discovered with a major portion of it buried near the Bahamian islands. If that isn't enough incentive to just chuck everything go live in the Bahamas and be a treasure hunter then feasting your eyes on the scenery in this movie just might do the trick. After helming Blue Crush in lush Hawaii director John Stockwell--who's definitely a sucker for surf and sand as well as the word "blue" in the title of his films--gets his feet wet again in Into the Blue. Really wet. Shooting a film in which three-quarters of it is underwater was an arduous task especially on the actors who all had learn how to free dive which is snorkeling in deep water for extended periods of time. But much like its obvious inspiration The Deep Into the Blue is really all fluff without much substance. It's just a giant excuse to watch beautiful people frolicking in beautiful backdrops with sharks drug dealers and action sequences thrown in for good measure. And you know that really isn't such a bad thing.