Anyone who's seen a trailer for "Cloud Atlas" or even heard the smallest amount of buzz surrounding it knows it looks a little, well, nuts. This massive new undertaking from the Wachowski siblings boasts teaser footage guaranteed to melt your brain, plus a cast of characters and settings that – while impressive on paper – could have easily stifled the promise right out of it.
Thankfully (and a little surprisingly), it didn't.
"Cloud Atlas" contains six vignettes that take place at various points in time, from the 1800s to two vastly different futuristic civilizations. They're tied together by a cast of characters whose interactions with each other in each life help shape and alter their intertwined futures. These major players (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess and Doona Bae, among others) embody entire casts all on their own, assuming new roles with each narrative in a sort of of cosmic Mad Hatter tea party.
It's a pretty big premise to deliver on, and "Cloud Atlas" doesn't mince around. Its frenetic opening lays it all on the table to set the groundwork for all six stories in mere moments. While a bit overwhelming (and a little reckless, considering almost all of the audience is already primed with a mix of confusion and intrigue), these first few minutes are not at all indicative of the pace to follow.
In what's probably a model example of skill and organization, screenwriters Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer execute "Cloud Atlas" seamlessly. They link together the plots and characters with a graceful, scientific precision almost akin to DNA replication – brilliantly complex, but so flawless it comes off easy.
This seamless balance is thanks in a large part to the common elements that take place throughout each narrative. Pivotal themes of conflict, escape and moments of good old deja vu transcend the eras and give "Cloud Atlas" ample opportunities to adeptly transition in and out of the six.