Spanning 500 years and six civilizations, Cloud Atlas is unquestionably the most ambitious and far-reaching movie of the year. Blending everything from colonial life on a sailing ship to a futuristic world of clones in 2144 New Seoul, it attempts to show how everyone’s life touches someone else’s throughout generations.

The wildly esoteric film will result in equal measures of pro and con reactions– both dazzled movie-goers and folks confused to the point of tedium. Directors and screenwriters Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and Lana & Andy Wachowski (The Matrix) have created an epic tale that is perhaps more bloated and cerebral than it needs to be, but by and large it succeeds where it’s supposed to.

Featuring a central cast of a dozen or so stellar actors (including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, and Hugh Grant) playing unique and often unrecognizable roles in each of the six mini-stories, Cloud Atlas can be awarded the Costume Design and Makeup Oscars already. The script, based on David Mitchell’s award-winning 2004 novel, is another story entirely.

This is a textbook case of taking a complex and profound premise (and solid source material) and trying a little too hard to squeeze it into a film canister. Each of the six stories could have easily been a movie unto itself, but as the finished product is already 172 minutes long, Cloud Atlas would have turned into a Shoah-length epic of mammoth proportions.

What we do get is solid acting all around in an often slap-dash movie that does have plenty of gripping moments, particularly during the second half, when your brain finally catches up..

If you walk into Cloud Atlas hell-bent on figuring out exactly what’s going on and what it all means, you might just burst a blood vessel. But if you just sit back and let it wash over you, you’ll find yourself on a pretty amazing journey.

4/5 stars