A version of this review appears in Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
With three co-writer/directors, a star-studded international cast and six interconnected stories, maybe it’s not a surprise that “Cloud Atlas” is such a surprising cinematic creation: a big-budget spectacle and weighty art-house drama all in one.
The Wachowski siblings (“The Matrix” movies) and Tom Tykwer (“The International”) not only accomplished the seemingly impossible task of adapting David Mitchell’s acclaimed and intricate novel, they managed to keep the far-flung interlocking narratives cohesive, engrossing and meaningful.
With Oscar winners Tom Hanks and Halle Berry leading the game cast, the almost three-hour film spans centuries, continents and cinematic genres, starting out as a sweeping period epic set in 1849 and winding around to a post-apocalyptic quest set in 2346. In between, it morphs into a tragic artist’s tale in pre-World War II Europe, a gritty 1970s thriller in San Francisco, a broad comedy in present-day London and a sleek, futuristic action thriller in 2144 Neo Seoul, Korea.
As with the book, some of the film’s storylines are more engaging than others, and the movie is so densely packed that multiple viewings are recommended, especially for people who haven’t read the novel. Viewers must pay attention to successfully follow the stories, but the film is so cannily edited that it just sweeps willing watchers along from one time and place to the next.
The principal actors all play a part — large or small — in all six narratives. Through movie magic, Berry convincingly portrays a Jewish-German trophy wife, a Maori plantation slave and a male Korean doctor from the future — and those are just the minor roles she plays in the truly epic movie. That the film didn’t even receive Academy Award nominations for its incredible makeup and costumes is a real shame.
While its 500-year concept is rooted in reincarnation, people of all faiths and cultures can relate to the movie’s messages about the lasting consequences of love and kindness, oppression and betrayal.
“Cloud Atlas” is the kind of visually striking and inventive film that’s just made for the high-definition thrills of Blu-ray, and the 55-minute, seven-part making-of documentary offers plenty of interesting insights and tidbits, even if it gets a bit repetitive at times.