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.
Vivian (Agnes Bruckner) works at a chocolate shop but she also has a craving for something else. She's part of a pack of werewolves living in Bucharest who gather once a month when the moon is full to chase a human and tear him to shreds after they all transform into wolves. The human who makes it to the river at the edge of the woods will be spared but so far no one has ever made it. All Vivian really enjoys is the running part. In fact she’d like to separate herself completely from the wolf shapeshifters or loup garoux but instead is relegated to becoming the next new bride of their leader Gabriel (Olivier Martinez). Things are about to change however. While lounging around in an old abandoned church she meets Aiden (Hugh Dancy) a talented graphic artist and researcher obsessed with her kind. She tries to avoid him he tries to forget her but their paths inevitably cross too many times to ignore. He finds her at the chocolate shop and they end up having a secret romance. And when Aiden becomes the next contestant in the werewolf run Vivian is helpless to stop it. It's hard not to like Martinez. It may seem like the role of a werewolf tribe leader is a bit beneath him after Unfaithful and Before Night Falls but he is deliciously commanding and powerfully wolf-like in his role. He saunters and moves like a wolf through the film showing that perhaps the Wolf Camp that the actors went through before the shooting of the film actually had some major impact on him (they also worked with real wolves on the set which added to the realism). Bruckner (Blue Car) does the strong female hero well but something about her performance seems lackluster. She's only vibrant and interesting to watch in her scenes opposite Dancy. Dancy (Ella Enchanted) on the other hand is superb and a good comic relief. German actress Katja Riemann as Vivian’s sad and aging aunt is stellar in her performance as an ex-lover of Gabriel cast aside while Bryan Dick (Bleak House) as Rafe is particularly evil and comes across as Harry Potter's blond nemesis Draco Malfoy only deadlier. What a fine accomplishment for German director Katja von Garnier. She has delved into the traditionally all-male world of directing a genre monster movie and turned it into a Romeo & Juliet with style. There's a distinct lack of gore and the violence isn't overbearing while the astounding art direction and overall moodiness of the movie is only heightened by filming on location in Romania a perfect backdrop for the heavy gray feeling of Blood and Chocolate. Even when the couple in love is happy there's a brooding nature that permeates the streets even in daylight. Most amazing is the graceful and poetic transformation of the humans into their alter wolf egos. They run into a frenzied pitch and then leap into the air and become real wolves rather than the usual cheesy werewolves accentuated by special effects. It’s quite breathtaking.