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"Matrix" directors Lana and Andy Wachowski, along with "Run Lola Run" filmmaker Tom Tykwer, have crafted a big, tasty slice of WTF pie in the form of their new movie epic "Cloud Atlas." The film breaks boundaries both in its narrative (interweaving six separate stories of different genres) and through its performers (the actors play multiple roles of different age, race and gender), all the while somehow remaining not just coherent but wildly entertaining. Who'd a thunk it?
While the end credits reveal who played which characters — leading to some audible gasps from the audience — we thought we'd fill you in on just who each of these actors appear as and how much Silly Putty was applied to achieve this.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead)
As the lead/official posterboy for this very ambitious enterprise, big kahuna star Hanks is no stranger to playing multiple roles, as he did for five — count 'em, five — parts in "The Polar Express." That was animated, though, while "Cloud Atlas" is real life, or real movie life anyway. During the 1800s segment Hanks' role as Dr. Henry Goose, a quack who is slowly poisoning an ailing Jim Sturgess, is quite villainous, while his 1930s Hotel Manager is just kind of sleazy to Ben Whishaw. During the 1970s section, he goes goo goo eyed for Halle Berry as conscientious Nuclear scientist Isaac Sachs, but doesn't get to consummate that bond until the far, far post-apocalyptic future segments as heroic villager Zachry (the most distinctly Hanks-looking of the bunch). In between he cameos as Dermot Hoggins, a bald brawling author, and briefly in the futuristic Neo-Seoul segment as An Actor playing Jim Broadbent's character Cavendish in an old movie.
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This is some of the best work Berry's done since she won her Oscar in 2002, as the former X-woman storms through six distinct roles, and, in several of them, you won't immediately recognize her. She's first seen as a white-haired/tattooed Native Woman during the 1800s, then as Jocasta Ayrs, an elegant caucasian trophy wife to Jim Broadbent during the '30s bit. Her best segment is the '70s thriller where she plays intrepid reporter Luisa Rey, exposing nuclear secrets and on the run from bad guys. She's glimpsed briefly as an Indian Party Guest who catches Brawler Hanks' eye, then in a heavily made-up part of Ovid, an elderly futuristic surgeon. In the apocalyptic Hawaii section she plays Meronym, part of a sophisticated elite trying to locate a satellite.
The 63-year-old British veteran Broadbent seems like he's having the time of his life in this movie, getting to play a range of characters and going places audiences have never seen the "Moulin Rouge" star go. As Molyneux during the 1800s, he captains a ship taking Jim Sturgess to America, while the '30s find his broken-down composer Vyvyan Ayrs given a new lease on creative life. During the contemporary scenes, he shines as Timothy Cavendish, a crusty old book publisher whose brother has him committed to a nightmarish old folks home. There's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment with him as a Blind Korean Musician in Seoul, and another small role as a Prescient Future Man during the final segment.
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The Wachowskis' working relationship with Weaving goes all the way back to Agent Smith in "The Matrix," not to mention their masked vigilante terrorist in "V For Vendetta." Now their favorite bad guy is back playing six characters with varying degrees of malevolence. Haskell Moore is the stern father-in-law of 1800s Sturgess, while Tadeusz Kesselring is a '30s German musicologist with a Hitler mustache. His hired assassin character Bill Smoke stalks Halle Berry with a vengeance in the '70s, while the wicked Nurse Noakes makes life for contemporary Broadbent a living hell. The futuristic Boardman Mephi hunts down Doona Bae in the future, and lets him play a convincing Asian, while his weirdest role is as Old Georgie, a devilish figure dwelling in the imagination of Hanks' character. Old Georgie could very easily have been unbearably silly if not for the malign nuance Weaving, well, weaves into the character.
No stranger to appearing in eccentric epics (he starred in "Across the Universe," after all) this is by far the biggest and showiest role(s) of Sturgess' career. As Adam Ewing, a reluctant slave trader in the 1800s, he develops a strong bond with stowaway Autua (David Gyasi). He's seen briefly as a Poor Hotel Guest during the '30s, and as a Scientist in a Photograph during the '70s. He's a Scottish Highlander who starts a full-on soccer riot in a bar during the Cavendish story, he's quickly dispatched as Adam, Zachry's unfortunate brother-in-law, but his coolest character is Hae-Joo Chang, a futuristic Seoul freedom fighter with more than a shade of Keanu Reeves' Neo.
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Apparently this sexy sexagenarian finished work on the Wachowski's "Speed Racer" and said "I want me some more of that!" (She may have been the only one.) Sarandon is always a standout, though, and here she's seen briefly in the 1800s as Madame Horrox, as an Old Flame of Broadbent's during the Cavendish section, briefly (and unrecognizably) as a video physicist named Yusouf Suleiman, and finally as a village oracle/matriarch named Abbess during the post-apocalyptic Hawaii scenes.
South Korean star Bae is best known in this country for her work in cult movies "The Host" and "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance," but here she gets to play way, way outside her comfort zone. As Tilda, the 1800s wife of Sturgess, she gets to swap race cards by playing a red head with freckles. She appears in both a photograph as Megan's Mom and as a pissed off Mexican Woman during the '70s scenes, but her main role is as Sonmi-451, a synthetic fast food worker who breaks her societal chains and becomes something of a messiah. She plays several Other Sonmis as well, including a Sonmi Prostitute.
This 32-year-old, who also appears as Q in next month's James Bond outing "Skyfall," got his big break when cast in the lead for Tykwer's "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer." Here you'll see him briefly as an 1800s Cabin Boy (never as good as a Chris Elliot Cabin Boy), as a Record Store Clerk in the '70s, a Bearded Tribesman in the far, far future and as Georgette, the aging wife (!) of Hugh Grant during the contemporary scenes. His standout role, though, is as Robert Frobisher, a closeted gay composer during the 1930s scenes whose piece, "The Cloud Atlas Sextet," not only serves as an anchor point for several scenes, but also give the film its bloody title! Not too shabby, eh?
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Ahh, finally we come to dear old Hugh, who at last really gets to sink his teeth into some deliciously devilish pricks the likes of which he's never played before… and he's played his fair share of pricks! In the 1800s, he's ruthless slave trader Rev. Giles Horrox, not to mention a Nasty Hotel Man in the 30s. As Lloyd Hooks, he has devious plans for a '70s nuclear power plant, and royally screws brother Broadbent over as Denholme Cavendish. During the Neo-Seoul scenes, he plays a lascivious fast food chain owner named Seer Rhee, but his most outlandish part is as Kona, chief of a tribe of cannibals, with war paint, sharp teeth, the whole nine yards. Hugh Grant eats people! How awesome is that?