Monday, April 22, 2013

Oblivion

Oblivion, directed by Tron: Legacy's Joseph Kosinski, is, like the world of Tron, very pretty to look at and contains an adequate amount of mystery to keep viewers interested. Tom Cruise, who has chosen yet another too-serious role, plays Jack Harper, a man in the year 2077 who's job is to repair broken machines--creepy, deadly airborne drones--left behind on a deserted Earth after a war with alien invaders we do not get to see. It is for the best that we are spared even a flashback of the battle, because (a) Harper himself has had his memory wiped clean and (b) the sight of another Hollywood-invented alien's anatomy would have doubtlessly diminished the slowly but nicely building suspense that the film thrives on for most of its running time. So, rather than an action movie that features humanity struggling to defeat extra-terrestrials, we have a somewhat quieter, easy-to-follow plot in which Jack seeks to discover why he is plagued nightly with dreams of a happier, pre-war time, when he seemed to be in love with a dark-haired woman (Olga Kurylenko). He doesn't know whether the dreams are meaningless or whether they truly are vestiges of some earlier life. The war happened in 2017, we are told, sixty years before the events of Oblivion.
 
Jack's partner on this drone-repair mission is Victoria Olsen (Andrea Riceborough), who is not the dark-haired woman of Jack's dreams but is nevertheless an attractive woman who certainly has captured his romantic attention; the couple live together in a 'Jetsons'-style house and, for all they know, are the only two human beings alive on the planet. The rest of humanity is said to have evacuated to Titan, a moon of Saturn, after the war. And to be sure, the only other human face they are accustomed to seeing is that of Sally (Melissa Leo), but only on a video screen and only so that she, as their mission commander on an orbiting mothership, can ensure that they are still an "effective team". Jack and Victoria, you see, are under strict orders to carry out this drone repair mission before going to Titan themselves.
 
As Jack begins to trust his dreams more than his reality, he becomes something of an explorer and manages to learn of a secret that could endanger his life, threaten his comfortable relationship with Victoria and cost him his job. This entertaining but all-too-familiar journey of discovery features Morgan Freeman as well as elements from a laundry list of previous sci-fi hits including, most notably, Planet of the Apes, The Matrix, 2001: A Space Odessy, and Independence Day. The problem is, these references to greater films are not homages; rather, it seems as though Kosinski hoped we might not make the connections at all, that we would just enjoy his story as an original stand-alone tale. Instead, to enjoy Oblivion we must choose to overlook un unescapable I've-seen-this-all-before feeling and just stare wide-eyed at the futuristic set pieces, hoping, along with Mr. Cruise's character, for solid answers to the questions he's not supposed to be asking.
 
For his part, Mr. Cruise has convinced us that his career is not over. He may not be the sure box office star that he once was, for a variety of reasons both on-screen and off, but he was very successful with 2011's fourth Mission: Impossible installment and should be successful here as well. The high point of the film for him comes in a fist fight that provides the only truly jaw-dropping moment of the film; the low point comes as he blurts an absolutely dreadfully written line at Sally near the end of the picture. Thankfully, such poor writing is balanced with enough quality art direction and momentum to make Oblivion worth our time. We liked it.

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