There’s a gorgeous little motif played across the interlocking stories of “Cloud Atlas” titled the “Cloud Atlas Sextet.” In the 1920s, a young apprentice (Ben Whishaw) to an aging composer (Jim Broadbent) pieces it together, while in the ‘70s a woman named Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) listens to it on record and can’t seem to shake off the familiarity of it.
Haven’t we all had this sensation before? Of something just seeming so familiar it is, as if, we have lived this moment before, crossed this path prior, perhaps even in another lifetime? Like most symphonies — their arrangements stitched together into something collectively beautiful, though each piece solitarily lovely in its own right — “Cloud Atlas” is a testament to this construction. A devotion to storytelling through a combination of convention and creation, “Cloud Atlas” is familiarity told in strikingly unfamiliar ways.
A sea of recognizable faces in a mass collection of themes, “Cloud Atlas” boldly, daringly, and remarkably takes on the task of adapting the multiple, century-spanning narratives of David Mitchell’s novel into something altogether miraculous.
It draws connections between six major storylines — a 19th century ocean voyage across the Pacific in the slave era; the aforementioned young composer and his intimate letters to a lover; a tough-as-nails journalist unraveling a murder at a nuclear power plant; an old man gleefully teaming up with other residents to escape from a nursing home; a futuristic revolution taking place in the land of New Seoul; and a search for answers within a collapsed society in the British Isles, occurring after an event called “The Fall.”
These stories are interwoven together with precision and style, meshing quite wonderfully even when the pieces of this whole are never quite fitting together as the story moves along. A great cast including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Doona Bae, Hugo Weaving, Susan Surandon, and Hugh Grant, among many others, populate the narratives in multiple roles, many of which you may not even catch until they’re revealed in the final credits. On this note, “Cloud Atlas” has absolutely no competition for the best use of make-up in a film this year.