Adapting David Mitchell's award winning sci-fi/fantasy/drama was a mammoth undertaking and while it's great to see Big Money thrown at something this bonkers, the visually impressive multiple plotlines fail to click on an emotional level.
Some movies you just have to go with it and Jim Broadbent's opening narration implores you to here: "Extend your patience for just a moment and you will find there is method in this madness." This is crucial: can you extend your patience for 172 minutes (as all is revealed right at the end) and, while there may be method in the madness, was it worth it?
Patience isn't easy. Cloud Atlas opens with Tom Hanks mumbling incoherently into a campfire (a problem as his story goes on) before launching headlong into the six stories that will take up nearly three hours. Among these stories is a bisexual musician serving as an amanuensis to a grouchy old composer in the 1930s, an investigative reporter unearths some shenanigans with a nuclear company in 1973 San Francisco and there's an interview with a rebel before she's sent to her death in 2144. Hanks, Berry, Sturgess, Broadbent, Grant, Hugo Weaving, Ben Whishaw and Susan Sarandon contribute to some, and sometimes all, stories in different guises.
The easiest way to solve a jigsaw puzzle is to start with the edges; in a film of seemingly unrelated stories the 'edges' are the theme - figure that out and the film will reveal its charms. This is Cloud Atlas's allure and it enjoys playing with us, constantly hinting at the point of it all: Is it about reincarnation, transmigration, cosmic karma, big fat coincidences? Take your pick.
The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer split up stories between them and come up with some snazzy visuals. Employing a different structure to the novel, the six stories run parallel to reach a climax concurrently - it doesn't have the runaway always-ending sensation of, say, Magnolia but they keep the clock ticking throughout. Slipping from one story to the next willy-nilly results in some emotional heft being lost, however.
Extending your patience is advisable and while Cloud Atlas will disclose more of itself upon more sittings it's a big ask to do it all over again.