Based on David Mitchell's 2004 best seller, this unconventional, epic fantasy begins with an old, tattooed tribesman, Zachry (Tom Hanks), squatting near a campfire, recalling incredible adventures through many lifetimes.

Written and directed by the Wachowski siblings ("The Matrix" trilogy) and Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run"), the multi-layered narrative is filled with flashbacks and flash forwards, which are meticulously cross-cut with the same actors playing a variety of roles in multiple stories, set in different time periods, spanning 500 years.

On an 1849 South Pacific voyage, a malevolent doctor (Hanks) tries to poison an idealistic San Francisco attorney (Jim Sturgess), who helped an escaped slave (David Gyasi). In Cambridge in 1936, an ambitious composer (Ben Wishow) becomes a musical amanuensis to an aging master (Jim Broadbent). In 1973, an intrepid San Francisco journalist (Halle Berry) investigates the corporate corruption of a nuclear power entrepreneur (Hugh Grant). In 2012, a London publisher (Jim Broadbent) faces unjust imprisonment. In 2144 in Neo-Seoul, a genetically engineered Korean clone (Doona Bae), aided by a courageous rebel (Sturgess), discovers the truth of her existence. And in the 24th century, after a planetary cataclysm, goat-herding Zachry reluctantly trusts an alien emissary (Berry).

Based on the thought-provoking concept that--from womb to tomb -- everything is connected through eternity, the consequences of one person's choices and actions impact another through the past, present and future. What survives is love. And to help differentiate the migration of one single soul during rebirths, there's a consistent comet-shaped birthmark.

Some of the transitions and threads are more smoothly interwoven than others, just as some of the actors -- Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant, Halle Berry -- demonstrate astonishing versatility in a challenging array of interlocking cultural identities that make them almost unrecognizable. Who would think of Hugo Weaving as a domineering female nurse? The costumes, hair and makeup are astounding, along with the photography, production design and editing.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Cloud Atlas" is a unique, awe-inspiring 8. Gorgeous and glorious, it's a visceral and visual feast!

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