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Jim Broadbent (left) and Ben Whislaw are part of the giant cast of 'Cloud Atlas,' a film that spans several centuries.
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BY ROGER MOORE
McCLATCHY-TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE
A work of stunning images, staggering ambition and epic length, "Cloud Atlas" is an attempt to create nothing less than a "unified field" theory of science fiction.
If you're the Wachowskis, who once set the movie world afire with "The Matrix," you can be forgiven such pretentious overreaching. Then again, if you're the folks who gave us "Speed Racer," maybe "Get over yourselves" should have come up as this elephantine instant cult film staggered into production.
Four Oscar winners and an impressive cohort of supporting players assay a string of inter-connected roles scattered through time. In myriad makeups, they tell us a tale of tolerance and intolerance through the ages, of humanity's failure to further evolve and the fond hope that it will do just that--eventually.
Tom Hanks plays assorted Brits, scientists, desk clerks and a post-civilization primitive "after the fall." Halle Berry runs the gamut from future warrior/explorer (complete with sci-fi jumpsuit) to 1970s San Francisco reporter exposing the dangers of nuclear power, to wizened Asian revolutionary to 1930s German-Jewish wife of a famous composer.
Hugh Grant, in the right old-age makeup, looks just like James Caan gone to seed. He also out-barbarians Conan as a cannibal of the future. The casting and makeup tricks tend to turn the movie into a stunt.
Susan Sarandon can be a modern-day long-lost love of a publisher (Jim Broadbent) or a post-apocalyptic shaman. And Broadbent ranges from racist 19th-century sea captain to addled old composer to the dotty publisher who has to stage a prison break from a British nursing home that draws on "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" for inspiration.
It's an overwhelming array of characters and settings, rendered in scattered quick-cut sketches (Tom Tykwer, who made his name with "Run Lola Run," is the third credited director). Here is the 1849 South Pacific, where Jim Sturgess is a dying slave-trade lawyer rescuing a runaway, and being tended by a demented doctor-scientist (Hanks). There is Sturgess again, melodramatically rescuing a "fabricant" (clone) prophetess in the "Fifth Element" Neo Seoul of 2144. She is played by Doona Bae.
STARRING: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D'Arcy, Jim Sturgess
CREDITS: Written and directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski, based on the David Mitchell novel. Running time: 2:52
RATED: R for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use
THEATERS: Paragon Village 12