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.
Introducing the Dwights also known as Clubland overseas is the story of Jean (Brenda Blethyn) a comedienne at the end of her career. She desperately tries to get that one big break--and to keep her 21-year-old son Tim (Khan Chittenden) from becoming an adult. While Jean works her day job as a cook she relies on Tim to drive her to her standup gigs at small cabarets at night as well as take care of his disabled brother Mark (Richard Wilson). But then Tim meets and falls for Jill (Emma Booth) much to his mother's dismay. The budding romance is plagued not only by Jean but also by Tim's inexperience and Jill's insecurity. Jean also uses Mark to try to drive a wedge between the young lovers. But still the romance is blossoms while Jean's quest for an audition at the best and biggest club in the area is the goal that keeps her going. Brenda Blethyn (Pride & Prejudice Secrets & Lies) plays the alcoholic Jean as a domineering entertainer. The British veteran is marvelous portraying Jean’s narcissism as she cajoles seduces and berates everyone around her clinging to a fleeting dream of stardom while holding onto her sons for some stability. Blethyn's performance is astounding for both the venom and tenderness she brings to the character. As well newcomer Khan Chittenden is terrific as the shy and inexperienced Tim and he pairs up fabulously with another newcomer Emma Booth as Jill. Richard Wilson also does an amazing job as the mentally disabled Mark imbuing a keen sense of humor in his observations obviously inherited from his mother Jean. Cherie Nowlan is more known for her television directing in Australia but has definitely readied herself to embark on this new career path. She handles Keith Thompson's script with aplomb incorporating an almost documentary style of filmmaking when dealing with the relationships which makes for a visceral and engaging entry into the lives of these characters. The direction also complements what is a very realistic romance between two young people. When Tim is shy and awkward with Jill the up-close-and-personal style makes it sweetly uncomfortable. But then Nowlan switches gears and uses more traditional camera-work and lighting when Jean is onstage making it more clinical and otherworldly and setting the two worlds apart. Introducing the Dwights is a delightful gem.