The term sprawling would underrepresent the expansive nature of Cloud Atlas. The story canvas covers six tales (and one smaller one featuring Tom Hanks as a gangster novelist) from 1849 to 2346. The film is certainly entertaining but at times confusing. It's not that the audience gets lost in the frenetic action of good guys versus bad guys, it's the why of the situations that often confounds. Couple that with the often unintentional garble of the future-speak of the story set in the far far future and at too many times we don't know why the hell the characters are doing what they do or what they're talking about.
But if you simply go for the ride without getting entangled in directors Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski and Andy Wachowski's sometimes florid, more oftentimes banal philosophies ("...when you close one door you open another...") then you'll be fine because one thing these directors do know is how to stage scenes. Many of the set pieces are charged with an abundance of energy and breath-taking tension that holds together very well. It's just that the movie itself, taken as a whole, does not neatly piece together.
Is that the intention of the filmmakers? I think not, since the subtitle reads: Everything is connected. So they do their best to conjoin parts of a jigsaw puzzle that feel as if they came from different boxes.
For years, David Mitchell, the author of Cloud Atlas, proclaimed that his novel was unfilmable. But here it is, on film, and it looks pretty darn good. The cinematography is top notch, the production design is visually arresting, costumes are spot on and the acting, except for an occasional thespianistic stumble by Halle Berry, is first rate. She, Mr. Hanks and the other actors seem to have very good time playing multiple roles in this movie.
And audiences, if they're patient enough to sit through the three hour running time, will have a good time too. One critic of this movie writes that [Cloud Atlas] does not have the power to stir an audience to rethink their own lives. I agree. So don't wear your thinking caps when you enter the theater.