One Toronto movie met mixed response but was a delirious joyride for me: “Cloud Atlas.” Truth is, except for the flat “V for Vendetta” and the final pixel-fucked “Matrix” movie, I’ve admired all of the Wachowskis’ output, even “Speed Racer.” These filmmakers have it all: strong writing chops, an instinct for entertaining audiences, and compelling visual style. They know how to create characters you care about, to fashion an engrossing narrative that carries you along, and to make your eyes pop with stunning cinematography. What they saw in David Mitchell’s novel “Cloud Atlas” was an opportunity to weave six unrelated stories in vastly different time zones into a sumptuous cinematic feast. And they chose well with collaborator Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”).
Together, they do their job. Each story catches you up; you know exactly where you are as they unfold; and you root for the characters. While some critics have described this as a meandering 164-minute mess that does disservice to the novel, I was crystal clear on what was happening throughout, without having read the whole book (I gave up early on–I’m going to try again). And the way the actors don outrageous multiple roles–and ethnicities and sexes– keeps things fun. Hugo Weaving and Hugh Grant relish their villains.
Tom Hanks bookends the movie with his action adventure tale with Halle Berry–my favorite, along with the stunning futuristic romance starring an Asian Jim Sturgess and Bae Doona, as well as Jim Broadbent’s comedic tour-de-force performance as nursing home escape artist Timothy Cavendish.
The way the filmmakers cut between episodes, using visual and emotional cues, is exhilarating. I can’t wait to see this again. This is a movie worth arguing about. And as expensive as it may be–the $100-million film was independently financed overseas with a $25 million infusion from Warner Bros. for North American rights–this movie could prove commercial. Audiences tired of the same old same old will eagerly scarf up this embarrassment of riches. Would it have been better served as a sprawling HBO mini-series? Perhaps. But I want moviegoers to send Hollywood a loud message that they want to sample the unexpected.
Time: “Acing an amazing feat — to synopsize and clarify a meganarrative of a half-dozen separate stories — the filmmakers keep things bustling. The performers, nothing if not game, don putty noses, fake teeth and tattoos in their many roles; they switch races and genders. The result is something strange to behold: exceptional in its reach and ordinary in its particulars — an impressive, messy sprawl, nearly three hours long and, in emotional impact, an inch deep.”
MSN Movies: “Most hundred-plus million-dollar films want to inspire you to buy the toy, get the game, read the comic and change your purchasing habits; ‘Cloud Atlas’ wants to send you out of the theater inspired to do real work for real change. If that’s a ‘messy failure,’ then let us hope Hollywood’s other directing titans are foolish enough to put bold big ideas in their films to finally go with the big budgets and big effects to give us even more of such fascinating, breathtaking and captivating errors.”
GQ: “As I staggered out, I couldn’t help wondering who on earth the people who bankrolled this thing thought was going to buy enough tickets to recoup their investment. Unless they’re a lot dumber than I hope, Mitchell’s admirers are likely to be dismayed; everybody else will just be confused. Anyway, if you ask me, Hanks’s self-serving metaphor could have used an extra syllable. As a movie, Cloud Atlas is bullshit being driven to the slaughter.”
Variety: “An intense three-hour mental workout rewarded with a big emotional payoff, ‘Cloud Atlas’ suggests that all human experience is connected in the pursuit of freedom, art and love. As inventive narratives go, there’s outside the box, and then there’s pioneering another dimension entirely, and this massive, independently financed collaboration among Tom Tykwer and Wachowski siblings Lana and Andy courageously attempts the latter, interlacing six seemingly unrelated stories in such a way that parallels erupt like cherry bombs in the imagination.”
THR: “As history repeats itself and the same master vs. slave scenario keeps reappearing, everything gets homogenized into a blandish whole, the impact of each story softened by the constant need to connect the dots.”
Guardian: “At 163 minutes Cloud Atlas carries all the marks of a giant folly, and those unfamiliar with the book will be baffled. Yet it’s hard to wholly condemn the directors’ ambition – this is fast-paced and cleverly assembled, with the best of the performances shining through the prosthetics (Hugh Grant makes great play of the clutch of villains he’s dealt). The Tykwer/Wachowski collective offer everything here. Chances are there’s something in the hodgepodge for you.”
HitFix: “These stories push moral and ethical buttons in some unusual and even oblique ways, and there is plenty of room in the film for every viewer to have a different experience with what they see. There’s a sense of trust on the part of the filmmakers that the audience will be willing to work for the pleasures that are strewn throughout, and there’s also a deeply heartfelt optimism even in the film’s darkest moments that makes it stand apart from the typical dystopian vision of most modern science fiction.”