I saw one review that described this movie as "a big, beautiful mess". I'm not sure about the "mess" part but it is big (in concept and length) and beautiful.
The movie tells six stories (all represented in the poster), separated by time but connected in many ways. All of the stories concern a fight for freedom, and sometimes love. If you've seen a trailer, you may have some concept of this. The six stories are: a young lawyer is sent by his father-in-law to a Pacific Island in the 1840s to purchase a plantation run by slave labor; a gay composer in the 1920s writes his masterpiece "Cloud Atlas"; a reporter follows a story about a nuclear power plant being built in 1973; an elderly publisher gets unwittingly committed to an assisted living facility by his hateful brother; a 'fabricant', a cloned human who lives in servitude in 2144, is recruited into a revolution; au uneducated valley dweller helps a woman searching in the uncivilized lands "106 years after the fall" for something which may save the earth.
The movie takes these 6 stories and shuffles them together. Each story is told more or less in chronological order, but the narrative jumps from one story to the next in an unpredictable fashion. Sometimes we'll see a whole scene in one time frame, sometimes, just a few seconds. Often the scenes switch when something similar happens in two stories. A door might open in one story and we're transported to a door closing in another.
It's confusing at first. It takes maybe 15 minutes to get a feel for what is going on as each story is set in motion. Pay attention!
All of the actors listed in the credits at the top of the poster, appear in all the stories. They appear as entirely different characters and with wildly different roles and makeup. If anyone can be said to be the stars of the picture it would be Tom Hanks and Halle Berry. He is the major character in "After the Fall"; she is the main character in the 1973 story and plays a major secondary role in "After the Fall". Some only play minor rolls, for example, Hugo Weaving is in every story but not a major character in any of them. The same with Susan Sarandon. And speaking of makeup, I defy you to recognize Halle Barry in 2144.
At 2 hours and 43 minutes, this is a long movie, but it never drags. When something exciting is happening in one story, something exciting is happening in all the stories. When each story is quite, we're jumping from one to the next so your attention can't waver.
The connections are sometimes easy to spot, like when in 1973, Berry goes searching for a record of "Cloud Atlas", and sometimes very subtle. Is that blue stone Hanks finds in "After the Fall" a button from the vest worn by the lawyer in the 1840s? And sometimes the connections are mysterious. What is the significance in the comet shaped birthmark that at least one character in each story has? Is this a story about reincarnation? It gets mentioned but we're not made to think about it too much.
The acting is terrific, the direction is always crisp and the look of each era is totally convincing.
I highly recommend this.