In this day and age, it’s hard for the majority of moviegoers to sit through a 120-minute film, so the fact that 99% of the TIFF Bell Lightbox audience remained in their seats for the 172-minute Cloud Atlas is pretty impressive.

Cloud Atlas has a lot going against it. Besides the length, the all-star cast—including the likes of Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Jim Broadbent—might also raise warning flags for some, since films packed with talent have a tendency to be more flash than substance. On top of that, all of the actors play multiple roles, which means viewers must navigate a complex web of narrative.

But Cloud Atlas does not disappoint. Every actor, major and minor, holds their own in the film and gives a memorable performance that is fresh and exciting from scene to scene. Tom Hanks is masterful in each of his six roles, and Jim Broadbent gives some of the best performances of his entire career.

The film had an interesting combination of violence, humour, and creepiness. No one element was overwhelming or gratuitous, but each was used at key moments to create relief or emotion, and to magnify the impact of the storylines.

While Cloud Atlas was sometimes difficult to follow because of its non-linear narrative, the pieces began forming a cohesive story towards the middle of the film. I eventually adjusted to the pacing and was able to string each storyline together. But it’s definitely a movie you might want to see a couple times to fully appreciate it.

The film may take home some hardware this awards season for its cinematography, with its sweeping landscape shots, vibrant colours, and realistic special effects. Even if you were frustrated by the structure or confused by the story, it was at least pleasant feast for the eyes. Even the makeup and prosthetics (which have caused quite a stir and generated plenty of feedback from fans and critics alike) were superbly well done. The old-age makeup on some of the actors was so good that you couldn’t help but wonder where these makeup artists were hiding during the production of last year’s J. Edgar.

Cloud Atlas is a must-see this year. It’s an independent film on a monster of a budget (rumoured to be around $100 million), and its success could mark the beginning of a new breed of movies out of the Hollywood machine—a breed that would be a breath of fresh air for anyone who appreciates the art of cinema. MMM½