Halle Berry’s Best Movie Is Her Weirdest

By Nathan Kamal | 2 months ago

halle berry

You have to give Halle Berry credit: she takes some big swings. Although Berry is an international sex symbol, a fantastic action movie star, and the only African-American to win the Academy Award for Best Actress, she is as well known for her high-profile flops as she is for her successes. While people might mention her award-winning turn with Billy Bob Thornton in Monster’s Ball or her role in Warren Beatty’s Bulworth, they are just as likely to mention the bizarre thing we call Catwoman, or Swordfish, the hacker movie that gave John Travolta a soul patch. They might even mention her strangled attempt at a South African accent in the first X-Men movie (and only the first, thankfully). But if Berry is in some weird and bad movies, it is because she actually takes on roles that are not the safest thing for a Hollywood star of her caliber. And much to the point, she decided to take on the Wachowskis’ 2012 science fiction film Cloud Atlas. 

Cloud Atlas is Halle Berry’s best movie, and maybe one of her least seen. Though it was made in the wake of the blank check the Wachowskis received after making The Matrix, when the siblings were essentially allowed to do whatever they wanted for a while, it did not hit audiences with the strength of Keanu Reeves rewriting reality code. Instead, the movie was a flop at the box office, making less than $30 million in the United States off a budget estimated at well over $100 million. It got slightly better receipts internationally, but not nearly what was expected. After all, this was a science fiction film from the people behind arguably the single most significant sci-fi film of the 21st century. It starred multiple Academy Award winners like Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, and Jim Broadbent. It was based on an acclaimed novel of the same name by ​​David Mitchell, which unusually managed to grab the attention of both sci-fi nerds and the literary community. So why did a movie so good go so unseen?

halle berry

Simply put, Cloud Atlas is one very weird movie, and the presence of Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, and Hugh Grant can’t disguise that. The movie takes place in six different time periods, all of which continually jump back and forth without warning. It is constantly self-referencing, with characters from one temporality being footnotes or historical characters to the stories of someone else. And most controversially, it keeps the same core cast of actors as it travels through time and geography (and eventually, the galaxy), even if that means that actors end up playing multiple ethnicities and genders. It is a wild ride of a movie, and that is what makes it so fantastic. 

halle berry

Breaking down the plot of Cloud Atlas is a fool’s game, but suffice it to say that within this one movie, there are essentially six different movies happening at once. They range in genre from an espionage thriller (in which Halle Berry plays a San Francisco journalist in 1973), to an Amadeus-like period drama (in which Berry plays a white, Jewish kept society woman), to a distant dystopian parable (in which Berry plays an essentially alien character trying to understand the primitive remnants of humanity in a Hawaii overrun by cannibal tribes). Throughout the movie, Halle Berry and Tom Hanks act as the primary anchors of the stories as they twist around each other and nest into each others’ histories. 

halle berry

If there was ever a movie that called on an actor to stretch their range, it is Cloud Atlas. And Halle Berry gives it her all in this film; she has to play more characters and different, often opposing perspectives than many actors get in a decade of roles. Fortunately, Berry is up to the task (and the rest of the cast with her). Everyone here understood the assignment, except for moviegoers. But even if audiences and critics did not appreciate or understand what the Wachowskis were going for, it is clear that Berry, Hanks, and all the rest certainly did. 

Despite the flop of Cloud Atlas, the people who made it have continually praised it as one of their finest achievements. Tom Hanks credits it with altering his consciousness (seriously), and says it is one of the few of his films that he has seen more than once. Halle Berry says that it is the only movie that could have possibly given her roles to try that she never would have otherwise. Likely (or maybe hopefully), Cloud Atlas will be re-evaluated in the future and give the acclaim that it deserves for its ambition and bravery. Halle Berry absolutely should be.