So you're sitting here reading this and many other reviews wrestling in your mind as to whether you should see Cloud Atlas. I too can say I know the feeling, for Friday night I sat there reading through the varied and mixed reviews and could already feel a mild disappointment settling in that the movie I had been waiting months to see may not be good at all. Now, having seen the movie, I can honestly say I intend to go again, and that the critics are wrong.
Perhaps wrong is too strong of a word, because there are many things that Cloud Atlas brings to the table that isn't everybody's cup of tea. It requires the viewer to be very attentive, actively make connections while watching, and continue to do so for 3 hours. This is enough to write off a casual film-going audience, but even for die hard film goers like us this can be a lot to ask if the story is not engaging. While I can't tell you that I was wowed with every switch in the story, I can tell you that every single frame you will see is relevant to the story and should not be ignored.
It's also worth noting that this film is so jam packed with references from one story to the next that you will undoubtedly miss quite a few things on your first viewing. I walked out of the theater thinking I saw it all but a quick conversation with my friends showed there were still things I overlooked. This personally for me was the most rewarding part of the experience. Cloud Atlas had me immersed in the story 100% and searching the screen for references to other characters, repeated lines and other objects of relevance.
If I had to landmark another tremendous plus for this film it's the Wachowskis representation of Neo Seoul. These sequences were some of the most visually stunning of the movie, and really squashed the science fiction bug in me. In fact all the stories covered a different genre of film and interlinked them in a way that was engaging and entertaining the whole way through.
I read a review that points out that if these parts of the film were laid out and pieced together chronologically the stories would prove incredibly boring. This is perhaps the most backwards criticism of the film I've read so far. The entire point of the movie is to show the degrees of separation between each character in the film and how their actions effected the others that came after them. Without spoiling the film I can only leave it by saying that is a reason for every character in the movie and there are references to their actions with other characters in the film. The non-linear story telling gives a great representation on how the small actions of those in the past can have a great impact on our futures (see History).
All that being said, it does take some getting used to, and I'll admit for the first ten minutes of the film I was entirely unenthusiastic about the entire experience. Once I was in, however, I was hooked. That's about as honest as a review I can give, and I hope that helped solidify your decision. The acting is as amazing as you'd expect (Hugo Weaving stole the show in my opinion) and the ending is not the payoff, but the message you come to towards the end. On the converse here's a quote from Eli to sum up his thoughts on the film.
I'd say my patience is a lot higher than the 'average' movie goer and I was excited at first to sink my teeth in and make all the 'fun' connections. I get the movie, I totally understand its message. I undertstand and concede that the story is ambitious and that the scope they're able to achieve is huge. But just like how I understand that hardcore metal music is really complicated and requires an immense amount of composing and synchronicity between the band, it doesn't mean I have to like it. I respect it, but it doesn't mean I have fun listening/watching it.