There is a fine line between ambition and excess.  Cloud Atlas crosses this line early and often during its bloated 172-minute running time.  
And although it’s consistently entertaining and oftentimes visually-stunning, it is also convoluted beyond belief.

Cloud Atlas cross-cuts between six different time periods ranging from mid-19th century to the year 2321.  The individual stories contain
many of the same actors and themes, making the plot difficult to follow without a flow chart.  I suppose the fact that we can understand it at
all is a credit to the film’s three directors (The Wachowskis of The Matrix fame along with Tom Tykwer).

The best stories are actually the two most heavily involving Jim Broadbent, who turns in a couple fantastic performances as a publisher
who winds up in a nursing and as a reclusive composer who hires a young musician (An excellent Ben Whishaw) to dictate the music in his
head.

Although Tom Hanks and Halle Berry headline the cast, it’s Broadbent’s work that leaves the greatest impression.  In fact, the far-future
plotline involving Hanks and Berry is actually the least interesting of the bunch.

All of the stories have their moments, however, and work well enough.  The biggest problem with Cloud Atlas is the very superficial way in
which these plots are woven together.  While on the surface they appear to be connected, the overall message is more fortune cookie fluff
than anything profound.  This film goes about its business as if it’s unveiling the secrets of the universe, complete with poetic narrations
that say a lot while really saying nothing at all.  It’s very flowery and rife with impressive vocabulary, but also ultimately hollow.

The entire affair is edited very cleverly; giving the appearance of being far more complex than it really is.  Similar events echo throughout
the various time periods, but what does it mean?  The film never delves beyond the abstract notion that everything is connected.

Although the film screams out for additional viewings to dissect its full meaning, the more you analyze it, the more it becomes apparent that
this plot is an elaborate series of smoke and mirrors.

Thankfully, the film is made well enough in its individual parts that it’s still an intriguing and occasionally thrilling experience.

We get some strong drama with Whishaw’s bisexual music transcriber and Broadbent is hilarious as the author attempting to escape the
retirement home.

There are even some impressive action sequences (not to mention stunning visuals) in the futuristic ‘Neo’ Seoul storyline.

The art direction is very good and the visual effects and sound design are excellent.

The makeup effects are also very notable with actors changing age and even race across the different stories.  Even if this is a bit
distracting in concept, it’s really no fault of the workmanship here.

Although it may be a big, unwieldy mess of a film, Cloud Atlas should be commended for its ambition.  It certainly provokes thought and its
individual stories are (for the most part) intriguing enough on their own to be functional.

Cloud Atlas is experimental storytelling on a grand scale.  It’s an unclassifiable film that doesn’t fit into any genre.  And as fascinating as that
is in itself, it is also inherently a hodgepodge of elements that don’t quite fit together into the complex puzzle it wants to be.  For all its
aspirations, Cloud Atlas is too busy for its own good and the promise of its grand, overarching storyline is left unfulfilled.

* * ½
(out of four)
CLOUD ATLAS
Written and Directed by: Lana Wachowski & Tom Tykwer
& Andy Wachowski

Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo
Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw

Music by: Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek, Tom Tykwer

Cinematography by: Frank Griebe and John Toll

Released: October 26, 2012; 172 Minutes