The Washington Post

‘Cloud Atlas’: A primer on its audacity and insanity

Tom Hanks and Halle Berry as just two of their characters in “Cloud Atlas.” (Jay Maidment/Warner Bros.)

Cloud Atlas” is a movie that cannot adequately be described in a few words. It is a sweeping epic, and a love story, and a dystopian sci-fi saga, and a political thriller, and a comedy, and an unintentional comedy, and a period piece, and often — improbable as it sounds — nearly all of these things in the same moment.

This film from Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis is about the quest to understand the things in life that are, to borrow the language Tom Hanks and Halle Berry use in one of the movie’s six story lines, true-true. In the process, “Cloud Atlas” also gets cray-cray and weird-weird and sometimes really good-good and, at a running time of nearly three hours, very long-long.

It is tempting to say that moviegoers will either love it or hate it, but that’s not accurate. One can admire much of “Cloud Atlas” without fully embracing it. (At least that was my reaction.) It is not, however, possible to stroll out of a screening of this mind-rattler and go, “Well, that was cute.” You can say, “Well, that was cute” after watching a Hugh Grant movie. Just not after watching this Hugh Grant movie.

Those who have read the David Mitchell novel on which this film is based will surely spend much of the movie playing a mental game of compare-and-contrast. Those who haven’t will simply attempt to keep track of the many narrative threads, time periods and characters between which the film ping-pongs, without, amazingly, growing too confusing. As Post film critic Ann Hornaday notes in her review, “‘Cloud Atlas’ deserves praise if only for not being the baggy, pretentious disaster it could have been in other hands.”

It’s as though “Cloud Atlas” arrived right on time, at the cultural moment when we’re so used to toggling from Twitter feed to TV screen to tablet then back to Twitter feed that we have no problem leapfrogging plots for 172 minutes. It’s kind of a mess, but then everything about the way we consume information and entertainment right now is a mess. So, hi, “Cloud Atlas,” come on in and scramble our brains even further by forcing us to process the fact that Berry, Hanks, Grant, Hugo Weaving, Jims both Broadbent and Sturgess, Susan Sarandon and many other fine actors are capable of straddling genders and ethnicities during the same multiplex experience.

And on that note, here’s a guide to some — though not even close to all — of the thoughts about the cast of “Cloud Atlas” that may pass through one’s mind while watching “Cloud Atlas.”

Okay, so that’s Tom Hanks.

(Jay Maidment/Warner Bros.)

But wait . . . is that . . . yes, that’s Tom Hanks, too.

(Jay Maidment/Warner Bros.)

Did every actor in this movie, at some point, borrow Nicole Kidman’s nose from “The Hours”? Because it kind of looks that way.

See, there’s Tom Hanks again, modeling a faux proboscis.

(Reiner Bajo/Warner Bros.)

Wait, is that Hugh Grant as an overweight old man and also Hugh Grant as a savage tribal leader wearing face paint that makes it appear he just stumbled off the set of “Apocalypto”? Yes. Yes it is.

(Jay Maidment/Warner Bros.)

Tom Hanks is a total gangster. No. Literally. He is.

(Jay Maidment/Warner Bros.)

Even Halle Berry in the ’70s still looks like Halle Berry.

(Reiner Bajo/Warner Bros.)

But Halle Berry as white woman with a different nose? She’s harder to recognize.

(Reiner Bajo/Warner Bros.)

Even harder to ID: Halle Berry as an Asian man. Yes, that is her with little hair and the mustache.

(Reiner Bajo/Warner Bros.)

Seriously, Hanks, you disappear into your characters and yet, I can still tell it’s you.

(Reiner Bajo/Warner Bros.)

Wow. So that’s what Jim Sturgess would look like as an Asian hero figure. He also kind of looks like Neo in “The Matrix,” which, given the Wachowski connection, makes sense.

(Reiner Bajo/Warner Bros.)

Okay, so let’s talk Hugo Weaving. He a contract killer as well as a frightening female nurse . . .

(Reiner Bajo/Warner Bros.)

. . . and a devilish figure named Georgie who wears a top hat and constantly screams in the ear of one of the six Tom Hankses. And he’s also three other people. Fine, “Cloud Atlas,” I surrender to your insanity.

(Jay Maidment/Warner Bros.)

And in conclusion: Hanks!

(Warner Bros.)
When she isn’t at a movie theater or writing about movies, Jen Chaney is ... um ... probably at home, watching a movie.
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