DIR: Joseph Kosinski • WRI: Joseph Kosinski, Gajdusek, Michael Arndt • PRO: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Duncan Henderson, Joseph Kosinski, Barry Levine • DOP: Claudio Miranda • ED: Richard Francis-Bruce • DES: Darren Gilford • CAST: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko
Given how character-driven science-fiction films are something of a rarity these days, when something like Oblivion comes along, it’s hard not to get swept away with the excitement or hype. That said, Joseph Kosinski – in his second film – is a master of meeting expectations. While Tron: Legacy was something of a beautiful mess, a two-hour Daft Punk music video, it worked on some level. Here, with Oblivion, he’s working with less gimmicks and more story. Set in the not-too-distant future, Earth has been left ravaged by an alien invasion. Although humanity has succeeded in defeating the aliens, Earth is almost uninhabitable and have migrated to an orbiting space station known simply as ‘the Tet’. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and Victoria Olsen (Andrea Riseborough) are the lone remaining humans on Earth, charged with keeping the security drones online which guard huge turbines that sucking up water and other precious resources. Naturally, things take off when Harper is attacked by the few remaining aliens and he witnesses a shuttle fall to Earth that contains a cryogenically-frozen Julia Rusakova (Olga Kurylenko).
The story itself does veer sharply off into science-fiction tropes that you can see coming a mile off. That said, however, the film is so beautifully designed and staged that you won’t necessarily care. The film is thankfully 3D-free, which the director is adamant was his own decision. Instead, you’re treated to huge landscape shots of Iceland, posing as a post-apocalyptic Earth and a clean-cut, Apple-inspired apartment where Cruise and Riseborough live. The film’s attention to design and detail can’t be understated. It’s such a treat to see a sci-fi film where the world seems, for the most part, utterly believable. There’s a real sense that the environment they are in feels and looks real. Indeed, much like Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, it has that feeling of perfect design and usability. However, like Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, it does suffer from a stale and overwrought storyline. As mentioned, the film does become somewhat predictable in parts and some of the dialogue does come off as wooden. It’s not due to the individual performances, rather the dialogue itself simply seems to be going in circles and not moving the plot forward. When it does move the plot forward, it somehow feels forced and written after the fact.
Tom Cruise is, as always, is a delight to watch. Whatever about his personal life / beliefs, he can never be accused of phoning in a performance. It is a little hard to think of him as a blue-collar worker, simply because you’re watching Tom Cruise be a blue-collar worker. His level of stardom is hard to separate from his roles. That said, he works effectively in this and is as convincing as he’s been in years. Andrea Riseborough, likewise, turns in a very competent performance. Fluctuating between ice-cold glares and moments of genuine heartbreak, it’s easy to see why she continues to gain momentum and bigger roles. Olga Kurylenko is decent, if a little understated in her role. Morgan Freeman, on the other hand, is simply window-dressing. He’s capable of far more than his role allows, but he’s simply not given any opportunity to move beyond the narrow parameters. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau of Game of Thrones fame shows up as Freeman’s right-hand man, but little else. It’s a decent cast, overall and there are some moments where Riseborough, in particular, outshines Cruise.
For the most part, Oblivion is an entertaining science-fiction film that works well. The story itself is somewhat stale, but the power of the imagery presented, mixed with M83’s fantastic soundtrack will block out any qualms you might have watching it. Find the biggest screen and enjoy the first blockbuster of 2013.
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