As a seasoned moviegoer you tend to enter a film with expectations. With all the entertainment news, trailers, and word of mouth, it’s rare to go into a movie without some opinion already formed. You go to see that actor you like or director X’s new film; you go to see the seventh film in that horror franchise that the studios just keep resurrecting like Mike Myers at the end of Halloween (do we really need another Paranormal Activity?). I guess what I’m trying to say is it is difficult to enter a film without a certain amount of baggage. So when I fortuitously ended up at the second “secret screening” towards the end of last week’s Fantastic Fest, and the movie was revealed to be the Wachowskis’ new film Cloud Atlas, even with all the excitement I felt for being at an early screening, I also couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED The Matrix. I still think it is one of the better action movies of all time. It blew me away. I still get chills thinking about the lobby scene at the end where Neo and Trinity are trying to breach that ultra-secure building in order to free Morpheus. Brilliant! In my mind it has yet to be surpassed. The Matrix was one of the first movies I saw on DVD and one of the first I owned. It helped to usher in the last decade of filmmaking.
But that was a long time ago and since then I’ve had to suffer the disappointment of the two sequels which definitely left a bad taste in my mouth so much so that I skipped the much maligned Speed Racer. When I saw that first trailer for Cloud Atlas, and it left me feeling pretty ‘meh’. I thought there was no way they could pull off such a complex story, and while it looked like it could be a visual treat, there didn’t seem to be enough there to catch my interest. So, when the lights dimmed in the crowded theater last week, I was fully prepared to grin and bear another over stimulating yet ultimately dull slog through movie muckery. And as the movie rolled along I sat there with my preconceptions. I wanted to hate it. I wanted to call it pretentious crap. I wanted to say it was a visual and philosophical mess for the dull-witted masses to eat up. BUT I WAS WRONG! Cloud Atlas is one of the better films I’ve seen in years.
The Wachowskis have accomplished a truly masterful triumph of complex narrative filmmaking. They manage to weave a seamless tapestry over their six narrative arcs that span across both time and locale, taking us on a perilous journey across the Pacific in 1849 to a glitzy, yet dark, futuristic Neo Seoul and beyond. As the old cloud cliché goes, it’s a story that really needs to be experienced to understand. That said, the flow of each segment flawlessly builds on top the next, through elegantly executed rhythmic cutting, and ends with a brilliant crescendo that brought the audience to its feet. It is a rare feat to balance the different tones, moods, and motifs without making your film seem jumbled and confusing but they manage to do this brilliantly throughout. Although some of the arcs are better than others none feels stagnant or boring each managing to satisfy and play well off each other in clever ways.
Thematically, Cloud Atlas meditates on the heady theme of transcendence of the human spirit through time. It accomplishes this by having its lead actors sprinkled throughout in very small roles crossing both the lines of gender and race. This is well executed for the most part, and part of the fun of second viewing will be seeing if you can catch who’s playing who. This feat wouldn’t have been possible without its standout performances by Halle Berry, Tom Hanks and Wachowski veteran Hugo Weaving (The Matrix’s Agent Smith). Cloud Atlas leaves us with the message that, though we may make the same mistakes over and over, the human spirit will continue to endure and triumph.
Cloud Atlas is a truly riveting movie experience and one that shouldn’t be missed. It is definitely one my favorite movies of the year so far. So take the red pill and enjoy the ride.