It is made up of 6 interlocking movies, in different styles, set in different time:
- An adventure yarn set in the South Pacific in the days of wooden sailing ships
- A homosexual romance concerning classical music set in England of the early 20th century
- A '70's thriller (with a blaxploitation touch) about a black reporter and a nuclear plant
- A comedy set in the world of publishing and an old folk's home in modern-day England
- A sterile sci-fi dystopia in future Neo-Seoul
- A post-apocalyptic tale set in Hawaii
The same actors play various roles in the different stories. In many cases, their roles are similar, in other cases much different. If I had diagrammed it all out, I might see a pattern that I missed, maybe even the whole point, but I wasn't watching it that way. I was mainly just thrilled by the spectacle.
It was directed by the Wachowski siblings and Tom Twyker. I worship Twyker's Run Lola Run, and rather liked The International (which I had never noticed that he directed). Of course, everyone knows and loves the Wachowskis, even after Speed Racer. The two teams do an amazing job here, intertwining the stories, letting beats from one build in another, sometimes letting a story run, sometime cutting between them shot by shot. It's an amazing combination of script and direction.
The actors are great as well, really digging into their roles. The makeup required to let one actor do several roles of different periods, races and gender was handled tastefully, I thought, never calling attention to itself. Although I have to say, as someone who once mistook Jean Arthur for Barbara Stanwyck, I often found myself going, "Is that Tom Hanks? No, that must be Tom Hanks. So who is that?"
I'm not sure I would have gone to see any of the six mini-movies if they had been presented solo, but altogether they made something more. I guess this has been done before - I think D.W. Griffith intercut four stories in Intolerance. But Cloud Atlas is really something.