At the Movies: Cloud Atlas

“Cloud Atlas” is an audacious, ambitious and epic film. Is it a masterpiece? I can’t go that far yet. Maybe after I’ve watched it a few more times the connections will all fall in place. If they don’t it’s still an impressive piece of work.

Based  on the novel by David Mitchell, “Cloud Atlas” is six stories in one:

* In 1849, a young lawyer (Jim Sturgess) befriends a slave ( David Gyasi) who has stowed away on a ship bound for America;

* In 1936, a young composer (Ben Whishaw) has crafted a masterpiece while working for a cranky old composer (Jim Broadbent) bent on stealing his work;

* In 1973, a young journalist (Halle Berry) risks her life while investigating work at a nuclear power plant;

* In 2012, a book publisher (Jim Broadbent) in need of money is committed to a retirement home against his will by his brother;

* In 2144, a clone-waitress (Doona Bae) becomes the unexpected leader of a revolution, and finally;

* In 2364, two people on opposite ends of the technological spectrum (Tom Hanks the shepherd, Halle Berry the futuristic visitor) come to rely on each other to survive.

Confused as to how it could all fit together? So am I.

The film’s tagline is “Everything is Connected,” but I’m damned if I can see how. Some of the connections are obvious but not all. At least not on a first viewing. At least not for me.

But the beauty of the film is that it doesn’t really matter. I don’t really care if all these stories are linked in some way, “Cloud Atlas” is just a fascinating cascade of storytelling. Writers/directors Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer seamlessly intercut the six stories in such a fashion as to hold your attention and ramp up the suspense. Not all of the stories are resolved to my satisfaction and some get more attention than others.

The cast — which also includes Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant and Susan Sarandon — perform multiple roles, usually showing up in each story in some fashion. It’s an impressive feat of acting, although Hanks’ most memorable role here is probably his shortest — that of a hot-tempered and low-selling author.

As you might expect from such a sprawling work, there’s something here for everyone: comedy, romance, sci-fi adventure, historical drama — if they could’ve squeezed in an animated segment it would’ve covered all bases.

The production values are all first rate: costumes, special effects, sets and scenery. “Cloud Atlas” is long, as you’d expect given that it’s six movies in one. But even at a three-hour running time it’s not long at all. There aren’t many three-hour movies I’d give a second look at, but this is one of them.

It’s not for everyone, but if you’re interesting in films that take chances — even if they fail in some respects — “Cloud Atlas” is worth the time and effort.

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