3.5 stars. Rating: R, for violence, profanity, nudity, sexuality, drug use and often disturbing dramatic intensity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 10.26.12
Shirley MacLaine will adore this film, and I’m sure she already has done her part to goose sales of David Mitchell’s source novel.
Rarely has the interconnectivity of past lives been conveyed so cleverly on screen, and certainly never before with such audacious snap. Even if you snicker at the premise and the multiple casting gimmick — about which, more later — it’s impossible to deny the skill with which these half-dozen interlinked stories unfold.
Despite an indulgent length of nearly three hours, directors Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski maintain an impressive degree of suspense and momentum, layering cliff-hanger upon cliff-hanger. We can’t help being caught up in the vastness of this sweeping fantasy, or the intimacy of its individual storylines.
And yet, when all is done and the screen fades to black, it seems like a lot of fuss and bother about very little. Just as Christopher Nolan’s Inception was an overcooked journey to discover the identity of Rosebud, Cloud Atlas builds to its climax only as a means of reflecting upon the endurance of true love, and the notion that — historically, contemporarily or in a future yet to come — individuals can make a difference, and always have.
As one character says, “What is an ocean, but a multitude of drops?”
Not exactly an earth-shattering revelation, but I suppose the thought is comforting.
The interlaced narratives are driven, to a degree, by the shared memory of a piece of music: the Cloud Atlas Sextet, a symphony written by young ne’er-do-well Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw), during his 1936 stint as amanuensis to cranky old composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent), years beyond his prime. The spirit of this music — actually composed by Tykwer and score collaborators Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil — imbues these and all other characters, and the theme itself bridges events from one time period to the next.