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Editors Note: Also be sure to see rochefort's equally positive review from Fantastic Fest.

The moment I turned the final page on David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas," it was clear that the movie was going to be a precarious thing. Six stories spanning a millennia (maybe more, it's unclear how far in the future the final story takes place), some much more obviously connected than others, the book's nested approach to storytelling was as successful in realizing its central theme, we are all connected, as well if not better than any single story. How could something this vast and expansive be boiled down to its central theme without losing the power of each individual story? One only need look to Cloud Atlas for a response.


Adapted by the Wachowski's and Tom Tykwer, Cloud Atlas is not only a clear and concise (yes, it's nearly three hours long but it needs, deserves and makes excellent use of its entire running time) adaptation of Mitchell's novel but it's one of the exceptions to the rule that books are better than movies. Mitchell's novel is brilliant but it's also very dense. The language is occasionally difficult, the ideas not always obvious and though there's a feeling of satisfaction when the last page is turned, there's little joy in it. The movie is a different beast all together.

Taking a core group of actors, the Wachowski's and Tykwer manoeuvre their way through all six stories, from Adam Ewing's Pacific voyage in which he is saved from near death by a self-freed slave to the far future, long after the death of society as we know it, where Zachary, a young tribesman, fights real and perceived demons to help Meronym, a member of the last remnants of technologically advanced humans. On the surface, the connections aren't apparent but with each story, the filmmakers weave a tapestry of interconnected time and characters, a universe, our universe, where choices, actions and sacrifices ripple through time.

It's not a very complicated idea but with six stories, each one a mini-movie onto itself, Cloud Atlas could easily have turned into a confused mess of characters and messages, a bloated movie with more thoughts of grandeur than actual delivery, and yet Cloud Atlas is a masterpiece of movie editing. Not only does it tell all of the stories, each with its own arch and tie into the every other, but it does so without losing a beat. There isn't a dull moment in this movie which so richly develops each story and then intercuts it with every other. It really is a marvel of the editing bay but also of three filmmakers who have full and unwavering faith in their storytelling abilities that they mix, match and edit bits and pieces of each dialogue together in such a way that every story moves but also compliments another. It also shows faith in the audience, faith that we're intelligent enough not only to follow along but to discern the meaning of what we're seeing.

What's most impressive is that along the way, Cloud Atlas is also a comedy, a drama and a romance. It's a story about survival and sacrifice, of love and death and of consequences. It's not only the most ambitious movie to come out Hollywood in the last few years but also the most ambitious from a team of filmmakers known for pushing the envelope not just with the studios but with their fans. It's not too surprising that the Wachowski's have a hand in this, a movie that spans not only genres but time and philosophy. It shares many of the same ideas explored in The Matrix trilogy but it does so in one movie rather than three.

The intricacies of the individual stories are too numerous to speak of particularly after only one viewing but a few key stories are worth noting, namely Timothy Cavendish's unfortunate adventure which offers much of the movie's comedic moments in the classic British tradition (including Hugo Weaving in a particularly memorable role), Robert Frobisher's adventures as a struggling composer and Sonmi-451's awakening in dystopian Seoul.

Cloud Atlas is a sprawling canvas with a little something for everyone. It's one of these "everything is connected movies" that takes the idea and expands the concept beyond present events, bending time to explore everything from slavery to cloning and even reincarnation. It's an easy watch, a highly enjoyable bit of action adventure but those looking for a challenge will find more than enough fodder for dissection and discussion.

It's too early to call it a masterpiece and it may not be flashy enough to garner The Matrix levels of adoration but it is most certainly a must see. Whether audiences agree remains to be seen.

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wa5 (4 months ago) Reply

This seemed to come and go from local cinemas very quickly.. I enjoyed it... bought the book and am working my way through it... you are correct .. the movie was as good... or better.


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