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.
This week, Jon Favreau seeks to once and for all declare a winner in the age-old feud between Cowboys and Aliens. The film stars current James Bond Daniel Craig and living movie geek legend Harrison Ford as a pair of tough hombres suddenly besieged by banditos from way, waaaaaay across the border. While it would be easy to get swept up in this tandem of man stardom, the fact is that Cowboys and Aliens has rounded up quite a sensational cast. Here are a few other faces you should look for, if you can possibly tear yourself away from Daniel Craig’s steely blue eyes.
Clancy Brown is one of my very favorite character actors. He’s one of those guys whose face and voice instantly ring familiar even if you can’t immediately place him; in fact the mark of a great character actor. Brown first caught our attention as the sinister Kurgan seeking to take the head of Connor MacLeod in 1986’s Highlander. Then, in 1994, he brought to life Steven King’s brutish Captain Hadley in The Shawshank Redemption. Brown then continued with his quest to show us what real men are made of as he enlisted in the Space Marines and killed a whole mess of bugs in Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers. After a slew of amazing voice work on some incredible animated series, Brown appeared on Lost and most recently was the voice of Parallax in Green Lantern.
Paul Dano is an actor of unparalleled talent, but big-budget genre films represent an entirely new planet for him. In 2004, he appeared in the underrated sex comedy The Girl Next Door as the quiet, unassuming Klitz. But audiences and critics alike first took real notice of Dano in the 2006 indie comedy Little Miss Sunshine as the confused, mute teenage brother of a half-pint beauty queen wannabe. But the performance that completely floored this writer was his dark, manipulative Eli Sunday in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. I am looking forward to seeing him bring that same intensity to a more crowd-pleasing film so that a wider audience becomes aware of his greatness.
While most likely the most potentially recognizable of this list, Olivia Wilde is still far from a household name. Interestingly, one of Wilde’s first films was also 2004’s The Girl Next Door, but it wasn’t until she turned up as Dr. Remy ‘Thirteen’ Hadley on the television drama House that she started to garner some attention. But unlike Dano, Wilde is no stranger to genre films or even sci-fi for that matter. Just last year she turned all of our heads sporting that tight, lighted suit in Tron: Legacy. I think it’s safe to say that a lacy bodice and a pair of long boots will do little to curb our adoration.
Two years ago, the Hollywood community lost a remarkable actor: David Carradine. But as it turns out, David was far from the only talented actor in the Carradine family. Keith Carradine has been turning in fantastic performances since the early 70s. He engaged in a life-long struggle for honor against Harvey Keitel in The Duelists; a powerful early film from Ridley Scott. Carradine has also proven time and time again that he is no slouch when it comes to westerns. In 1980, he appeared, along with brothers David and Robert, in Walter Hill’s phenomenal The Long Riders. He also played Buffalo Bill Cody in Walter Hill’s Wild Bill and would later play Wild Bill himself during a five-episode stint on Deadwood. Most recently, fans of the series Dexter would recognize him as Special Agent Frank Lundy.
I must admit I had no idea who Walton Goggins was until my lovely wife sat me down and made me watch one of her favorite shows: The Shield. Goggins played Detective Shane Vendrell, one of the looser cannons on Det. Vick Mackey’s already unhinged strike team. Since then, each and every time I have seen Goggins pop up on TV or the big screen, I have taken dutiful notice. Recently Goggins appeared in Predators as one of the despicable rabble rounded up as target practice for cinema’s iconic race of alien hunters. Goggins is also earning rave reviews for his new series Justified in which he stars opposite Timothy Olyphant.