5 out of 5
Whatever your feelings about Cloud Atlas - and I have a feeling that a lot of people will probably hate it deeply, even if I loved it passionately - you can't argue that it's one of those rare movies that look and feel like little else out there, and that alone makes it a must see for me. I loved David Mitchell's book so much that I read it twice within as many months, and even from the earliest trailers, it became evident that the Wachowskis and Tom Twyker were attempting to capture the epic feel of the book - they would take on all six stories, give each of them their due, and give each a lush, beautiful cinematography and a top-notch cast. But they've done far more than that: among other choices, they've jettisoned the Russian nesting doll sequencing of the book for intricate cross-cutting between the six stories, and they've used their cast in every story, allowing each actor to play as many as six roles, different genders, different races, and so much more, all in the service of crafting a narrative about love, reincarnation, karma, and the way our actions ricochet far beyond our own lives. The end result is one of the most fascinatingly ambitious films I've ever seen, one that's all the more powerful for its surprisingly personal feel; even in the midst of astonishing visuals and sequences that are as exhilarating as they are fast-paced, the film never loses sight of its characters or their emotional arcs. It's that aspect, I think, that makes Cloud Atlas work; for all the changes it made to the book (some quite significant), for all the portions that don't quite work (I'm thinking here especially of the "Sloosha's Crossing" story, where the rich language of the page becomes far more difficult when spoken with less time for immersing yourself in its depths), the film's emotional beats ring beautifully true, and the Wachowskis and Twyker cut incredibly between them, creating something more than the sum of their parts through the juxtapositions. I can see Cloud Atlas getting a reputation like The Fountain over the years; it's an intensely personal epic, its reach sometimes exceeds its grasp, it's astonishingly earnest, and it looks and feels like nothing else I've seen. And yet, all of those things are part of what I loved about it. There's some exhilarating about watching someone truly swing for the fences, and at its best moments, Cloud Atlas is a transcendent piece of art that tells a beautiful, spellbinding story. I can't promise you'll love it the way I did. But I can tell you that if you value unique, unconventional movies, and if you want something ambitious and unlike anything else, you owe it to yourself to watch this on as big a screen as possible.