Movie Review: Oblivion
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Reviewed: 26 April 2013
Tom Cruise is a star. It's the end of the world as he knows it, and he plays Jack, half of a two-person "Wall-E" style crew in charge of repairing drones that protect giant energy converters driven by the earth's ocean. The year is 2077, and the rest of humanity has fled to Titan, the moon of Jupiter, as a result of the intergalactic war with the Scavs. We won the war but lost earth in the battle, or so we are told. Along with his partner Victoria (Andrea Risborough), Jack's mission involves relaying information to base, shown through video communication links with Sally (Melissa Leo), and protecting the machines and drones who guard them, while simultaneously avoiding the Scavs, fearsome and monstrous creatures lurking in the shadows.
At its best moments, "Oblivion" delivers a slow Ray Bradbury-esque portrait of a futuristic man who struggles with his lonely mission and longs for the past, presented in bits of black and white memory with a mystery girl (Olga Kurylenko). Much of this film involves Tom Cruise wandering by himself, and his journey and disorientation works far better than over-the-top action sequences. The drones themselves are fun to watch: giant, floating Pac-Man style ghosts with HAL-9000 eyes and machine guns galore! Jack's space station has a Cloud City look to it, and I enjoyed the small ship he pilots with its swiveling pilot's chair, a nod to both the Millenium Falcon and the X-Wing. There is a fun, small moment where Tom Cruise takes on his ultimate enemy, and as an audience member who has followed him since "Top Gun," it was quite fun to watch.
Fusing visual elements from "Star Wars: A New Hope" with the aesthetics of "The Day After Tomorrow," "Oblivion" works best in its quiet, meditative moments where long shots reveal the desert that has replaced New York City (though I do not quite understand how the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building, and New York Public Library are scattered so far away from each other). Cruise resembles Luke Skywalker on Tattoine with his speeder bike, his binoculars, and his secret yearning to go off-mission. The appearance of a face from his past forces him to question his mission and himself. There is a quasi-reverence for reading in this film with books taking on a symbolic power, though nothing is actually read beyond a poem containing intense foreshadowing that Jack happens upon.
And alas, there is too much going on here. The plot develops Jack and Victoria for such length of time that when Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau appear in Tusken Raider gear, there just is not enough time for them to register as characters. They seem part of a different movie. At too many points, Kosinski's direction undermines the story with last-minute nonsensical heroics, confusing cutting, and the film's only allowed F word. All the acting is fine: Cruise delivers a strong performance as a stoic, yet confident man unraveling while Risborough displays a veneer of strength over her brittle emotions. Kurylenko is given nothing to do in the film which is a shame, and the great Morgan Freeman is reduced to a cigar and some pretty cool sunglasses. I had to look up his character's name: Malcolm Beech. The ending of the film seems like an anticlimactic misfire, with its twisty reveals that I did not understand until the car ride home twenty minutes later. There is quite a bit to think about with "Oblivion," and its history as a graphic novel is clear, but at two hours long and with an unsteady hand at the helm, the film crashes. Tom Cruise, the star, cannot prevent this.