I think if Cloud Atlas took itself and its themes and lessons super-seriously it could have been tragically awful. The nursing home segment, genre thrills and obviously silly makeup help keep things on the amusing side. Another way to make the movie awful would be to present it as an anthology, separating the stories and letting each play through, since the main interesting thing about the film is its cross-cutting and the tentative connections between segments, previous events echoing into later ones, sometimes misinterpreted.
Movie is full of “oh who is that guy, I’ve seen him before” moments, but mostly it’s because the same actor played a different role in the previous scene. I kept getting Ben Whishaw (of Bright Star and I’m Not There, playing the young composer/amanuensis) mixed up with Jim Sturgess, and wrongly imagined one or both of them might be Benedict Cumberbatch.
Pacific Islands, 1849: Mad doctor Tom Hanks poisons Jim Sturgess for his money aboard a slave ship.
Cambridge, 1936: Two guys in love – Ben Whishaw goes to work for composer Jim Broadbent (the second movie I’ve seen with an amanuensis after Delius – suppose it’s a cinematic way of showing the artistic creation process) and later kills himself.
San Francisco, 1973: Halle Berry is a reporter onto a murderous secret over some nuclear files provided by the guy from 1936 who didn’t kill himself (a Ralph Fiennes-looking James D’Arcy).
London, 2012: Gangsta author Hanks kills a literary critic, story follows his agent Jim Broadbent to a prison-like old folks home (governed by evil nurse Hugo Weaving) from which he plots to escape.
Neo Seoul, 2144: Doona Bae is a “fabricant”, a robot slave, freed in mind and body by militant freedom fighter Jim Sturgess – very Matrix-meets-V-for-Vendetta.
Big Isle, 106 Winters After The Fall: Hanks is tribal type haunted by an evil clown, rescues space-travelin’ Berry from cannibal warriors led by Hugh Grant.
Susan Sarandon also appears, and Wachowski favorite Hugo Weaving is everywhere. I never recognized Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) as the poisoned lawyer on the ship and lead revolutionary of Neo Seoul, Doona Bae (sister/archer in The Host) as the escaped fabricant, nor Keith David (The Thing, They Live) as the cop who helps reporter Berry in the 70’s. Also lost track of what the comet birthmark shared by some characters signified.