The past, present, and future all intertwine to tell one incredible and ambitious story in "Cloud Atlas." Six different time periods and settings (The Pacific Ocean in 1850, Cambridge in 1936, London in 2012, Neo Seoul in 2144, and Big Isle 106 winters after the fall) and cast members portraying multiple roles, "Cloud Atlas" is ridiculously complex and quite possibly the most fantastic event to happen to cinema in quite some time.
The individuals who have read or are at least familiar with the source material seem to be at an advantage. Speaking as someone who didn't read the book, certain things didn't add up or make a whole lot of sense. During the entire Big Isle setting, everyone has this strange dialect that is difficult to comprehend at times. David Gyasi mumbles through why he dreams of proving himself as a first class seaman as Autua, a self-freed slave, in 1850. You miss a lot of the more important background information regarding his character because of it.
Given the length of the film (it clocks in at 172 minutes), you may find yourself dreading another visit to the film unless you were one of the people who absolutely adored it. On the bright side, a film with this much material is bound to have secrets and hidden gems tucked away in every corner that you were bound to miss the first time through.
Some of the settings and characters are much more enjoyable than others. The Big Isle setting at least plays a big role in the long run, but the London setting starts off really strong and then turns into the weakest offering of the film. Tom Hanks as Dermot Hoggins is easily the highlight as his English accent and over the top actions are the first thing to really catch your eye at the start of the film, but his character isn't used again after the opening sequence. It revolves around Jim Broadbent's Timothy Cavendish being sent to a retirement home and him trying to escape the clutches of dominant Nurse Noakes (portrayed by Hugo Weaving). It's the one setting of the film that offers this weird slapstick sense of humor that just doesn't seem to mesh well with everything else going on. Maybe it's something that was just more enjoyable in the book.
While most of the actors portray a wide spectrum of characters (Tom Hanks plays a doctor who's poisoning a man just to get to his valuables, a doctor who falls for a journalist, a greasy hotel manager, and a violent English author; as an example), Hugo Weaving is basically the same character in every setting. The most vile and unlikeable character is always him throughout the film. Nurse Noakes is scary though and it's not because of the way she's written. It's because of her appearance and the way your brain stumbles to comprehend just what the hell that thing is the first time you look at it.
While "Cloud Atlas" is visually impressive in a massive way, the stories are expertly and flawlessly woven together, and it's a sci-fi film that's magnificently bold and breaks boundaries, its nearly three hour duration is daunting. There certainly may be a cult classic buried deep within this cinematic version of 7 layer dip, but repeat viewings may be difficult for the average viewer. Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer have something incredibly unique and stupendous on their hands, but whether or not the average theater-goer will have any interest sitting through a three hour epic that spans six different timelines let alone paying ten dollars to see it remains to be seen.