The new Wachowski/Tykwer film Cloud Atlas is a hell of a good movie. If you’re at all curious about it, go see it in a real theater. It’s a terrific example of what film can be. Sprawling, uncompromising, beautiful.
It’s also one of those rare films that’s better than the book. I read the novel last month in preparation and while I enjoyed it, I found it a bit flat and hard to get through. The film picks up on all the interesting themes of the story and tells it more effectively. My only fear is it might be a bit hard to follow the movie; a plot synopsis of the story may help you enjoy the movie more and won’t spoil too much.
I particularly like how they re-imagined the book as a movie, changing the narrative structure. The book is a series of 6 nested stories told in halves, ABCDEFEDCBA. The film chops that up and interleaves the stories much more rapidly. That lets them systematically highlight the common themes and narratives between each story that makes the whole work so intriguing. They also play off the stylistic inconsistency of each story, the mix of action, sci-fi, and farce coming fast and furious gives the narrative some much needed variety. Add on top of that great filmmaking, casting (Jim Broadbent!), makeup, production design, and it’s a rare example of a complete movie coming together.
I’m also impressed at how the Wachowskis have stayed true to their vision of the filmmaker’s art. After the relative failures of the Matrix sequels and the underappreciated Speed Racer, you could imagine them compromising, retrenching. But there’s nothing tentative about Cloud Atlas, it’s an aggressive film. The collaboration with Tykwer also seems to have worked to everyone’s benefit.