Friday Flicks: Is Cloud Atlas a Masterpiece or an Almighty Mess?

TIME breaks down which films to see and which to avoid this weekend.

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Cloud Atlas

Tagline: Everything Is Connected

The German filmmaker Tom Tykwer clearly enjoys a challenge. A few years ago, he took on the unenviable task of adapting author Patrick Suskind’s best-selling yet well-nigh unfilmable 1985 novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.

Fast forward to 2012 and Tykwer’s at it again, joining forces with co-writers and directors Lana and Andy Wachowski (formally the Wachowski brothers of The Matrix fame) on Cloud Atlas, British writer David Mitchell’s bestselling book from 2004, which shone a searing light on how one’s actions and consequences can impact and resonate through the past, present and future.

The plot jumps around, from the mid-19th century to a post-apocalyptic future, with a big name cast featuring the likes of Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, who each played several different roles across the six stories. And said stories don’t initially appear to have much, if anything, in common, skipping from a Pacific ocean voyage in 1850 to 20th-century San Francisco to a retirement home in modern-day London, and then forward into a future after something called the “Big Fall”.

Naturally, critical opinion is widely divided. Variety leads the way with a positive notice, stating that the decision to show the half-dozen tales pays off: “Like juggling Ginsu blades, the tricky feat is part stunt, part skill, but undeniably entertaining to witness as half a millennium of world history unfolds, much of it set in centuries still to come.” Less sure is The Daily Telegraph, which concludes that “There’s plenty to argue with, more to scoff at, and some uninitiated viewers may well choose to check out of engagement early. But it’s also a dizzily generous ride, scored with real grandeur, and even its silliest elements are guilty pleasures.” And most definitely in the anti-camp is our own Richard Corliss, who preferred the Wachowski’s poorly received¬†Speed Racer from 2008.The feeling persists that Tykwer and the Wachowskis made the picture to prove they could. Most viewers are likely to be impressed more by the magnitude of the effort than the magnificence of the effect.”

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: The Making of Cloud Atlas

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