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Latest movie causes chatter: Is Halle back to being Berry good?

By Rich Heldenfels--Halle Berry is on the big screen again, in the already-much-debated “Cloud Atlas,” with Tom Hanks. And this should be good news for people wondering what the heck had happened to her screen career.

Her most recent film, “Dark Tide,” turned pretty much into a direct-to-video effort. And it was noted less for its relative quality than for being the place Berry met her fiance, Olivier Martinez.

It has been just over 10 years since she won her Academy Award as best actress for “Monster's Ball,” becoming the first African-American to receive that award. And, to date, still the only one. That prize was part of a remarkable run for the actress.

It began in 1999 with her performance as Dorothy Dandridge in HBO's “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge”; Berry winning the Emmy for her performance in 2000, the same year that she was in the global blockbuster “X-Men”; the release of “Monster's Ball” in 2001, and the Oscar the following year. Then, as if that was not enough, 2002 also saw her with Pierce Brosnan in “Die Another Day,” a James Bond film.

That film suggested that Berry was not just a great actress but a true star. Claudia Puig in USA Today said Berry was “nearly Bond's match in most categories: athletic prowess, grace under fire and cocky assurance. The pair do some powerfully suggestive verbal jousting, proving she's almost his equal in the steamy double-entendre department.” Some people thought that the “nearly” and “almost” were off-base, and there was talk about spinning Berry's character into her own film.

That spinoff never happened, and Berry's career seemed to spin out of control.

By 2010, Entertainment Weekly was referring to her as an actress who had struggled since her Oscar.

There were still the occasional fine performances, in TV's “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” for example, and the art film “Things We Lost in the Fire.” She had some success as a producer, notably with HBO's award-winning “Lackawanna Blues.” But there were also serious difficulties in her romantic life, which led to so much tabloid scrutiny that she has talked about moving to Europe. And she contended with screen misfires like “Catwoman,” “Perfect Stranger” and the barely seen “Dark Tide” and “Frankie & Alice.” Her most successful movies tended to be ones she did not carry, like the franchise-driven “X-Men” sequels and the animated “Robots.”

So will “Cloud Atlas” turn around her reputation? The film is a massive puzzle across different times and characters (with the actors playing multiple roles). The first reviews have been favorable more often than not, although even some of the favorable ones have caveats. One critic cited on the Rotten Tomatoes website said it is “a rare example of a movie getting by entirely on technique and creative bravado” while another declared: “for all its ambition and accomplishment, and for the ostensibly subversive philosophy it pushes, 'Cloud Atlas' ends up being just another platitudinous overblown pummel-you-into-submission movie-machine.”

As I said, those comments are from favorable reviews. But what should help Berry is that this is a movie that, unlike some of her other recent efforts, is getting talked about, and argued about, often passionately.

In his review Roger Ebert gave it four stars, saw it twice and said, “Surely this is one of the most ambitious films ever made.” So we'll see how it ends up suiting Berry's ambitions.

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