OBLIVION Review

It takes a while for Oblivion to get going and therefore might lose some of its audience before it really digs into why it's worth sticking around for. I am generally a fan of both science fiction and anything Tom Cruise decides to do and so to have them both served up in a single film that looked to be as gorgeous as it did while paired with a story seemingly ripe with mystery and intrigue from the mind of the director which could only mean a good amount of passion was applied, was rather exciting. My first thought as the credits began to roll though was not how incredibly beautiful the film was (which it is) or how solid the performance of Cruise was (reminiscent of a young Maverick even) but instead I couldn't help but wonder what exactly the film was trying to say or what any of it meant. Was this a simple minded sci-fi flick that had style first with substance a distant second or were all the twists, turns and intended surprises truly trying to say something? I couldn't decide and I wasn't sure I even understood all of what went on in the film. I assumed a few things and talked out a few other plot points I needed clarified on the ride home, but never did I feel fully satisfied with the story or that the filmmakers even had as much of a handle on it as they'd like to have us think. A clear vision for the world it would take place in? Sure. A wonderful musical score that somewhat rips off Daft Punk's from director Joseph Kosinski previous (and debut) feature, Tron: Legacy? Yea, but I was good with it. Still, the story seemed to come in last here; cobbled together from several different influences of the same genre and hoping to pass for something as fresh and new as the look of the film, Oblivion failed to live up to my expectations. Don't get me wrong, it is a fine enough film and is rather entertaining if you give it a chance, but it certainly isn't all it could have been.

Tom Cruise and Olga Kurylenko in Oblivion.
Though my first thought was to give the film another look, see if I could better grasp the story with a seasoned set of eyes. Still,  I felt like anyone might after taking a first watch of the film. All the basics are present they just seem to be conveyed in an unnecessarily convoluted way to add to the dramatic effect of the "big reveals" the movie has, some of which the audience likely guessed from the trailers. Going back to basics though Cruise plays (another) Jack who has been performing drone maintenance and repair on a ruined earth for five years with a wiped memory. He doesn't know anything about the past besides what he's read and what his dreams tell him, but more than anything he is confused by it all. This confusion lends to more intrigue when he comes upon a crash site that contains human survivors. From here it is tough to say anything more that won't lead to spoilers, but what can be revealed is the set-up of why Jack and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) have been left as the last remaining humans on earth. As the film begins and we are delivered beautiful imagery, music, and sound design that could tell a story on its own and lend a certain amount of intrigue from the beginning, making the audience anxious even, we are instead given a voice over from Cruise who explains that the aliens attacked the moon which destroyed much of the earth and that when these aliens invaded we won the war, but lost the planet. Granted, we knew some of this from the trailer as well but there is no need for this early monologue as Cruise's character repeats the same speech later in the film to catch up another character and thus is when we should have received the information for the first time as well. There is a story to tell here, even if most of it comes from several different sci-fi stories, that could have been just as thrilling as the images on screen were it executed in a better manner.

But while the story is a lackluster component in a big machine there are other aspects where the film flourishes and cushions the blow of the disappointing narrative from time to time. First and foremost would have to be the visuals of the film. It is gorgeous and though I didn't see the film in IMAX the first time I definitely plan on going back to see it a second time in one of the larger screen formats simply because the look of the film deserves to be seen on a large scale. The production design has much to do with this as well. If you saw Kosinski's previous work you know he is very much akin to a clean, slick looking world where everything is white and infused with bright blue lights. Yes, it is a fairly standard futuristic cliche, but the designs that carry these colors are so fresh and interesting to look at it doesn't bother at all. The residence where Jack and Victoria live is like a small square flat positioned high above the mountains and contains everything they might ever need to survive. Darren Gilford (who also worked on Tron: Legacy) gives the film a sense of scope by making the headquarters and the ship that Cruise spends much of his screen time flying around in only small parts of a bigger and unknown planet. They are quaint in the most special of ways, functioning with effortless direction and operating with a hint of advancement that we can't clearly comprehend today. That is a tough thing to do in a world where everything seems possible and right at our fingertips, but everything in Oblivion feels real, as if it will actually exist in sixty or seventy years, if not sooner. Cinematographer Claudio Miranda (who just won an Oscar for his work on Life of Pi and worked with Kosinski on Tron: Legacy as well) captures the terrain of the scorched earth that makes it look as beautiful as a ruined planet can. While these aesthetic aspects of the film are certainly pleasing and the performances strong enough to keep us interested it's still tough to not want more from that story unfolding on top of these things.

Morgan Freeman, Zoe Bell, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
While Cruise is clearly the main draw here and he does what he does best by running, flying, and dramatically yelling important points of dialogue he also has a good cast of supporting characters making the complicated plot lines go down a little easier. As little as he's used Morgan Freeman is never really a bad thing to have in your back pocket and no matter how much he resembles Morpheus here, we still appreciate hearing that comforting voice convey all the necessary backstory for the parts our lead protagonist is missing. Andrea Riseborough (W.E.) does a fine job in her layered role as someone caught between the job she has been assigned and the rebellious ways in which Jack is trying to pull her. She is underplayed here and isn't really given the chance to have that moment, but as that is true, her character does get a slight vindication and the small facial expressions and ticks she gets to play up really deliver a performance that create a full on persona. Unfortunately Victoria is about ten times more interesting in her role than the supposedly more important Julia (Olga Kurylenko) who turns up about mid-way through the film and serves up nothing more than a bland palette for Cruise to play off of. I don't mind Kurylenko and thought she did nice work in the more poetic performance she put forth in To the Wonder, but she is skating by here with an underwritten role, nothing to offer, and ends up leaving little impression by way of who she is or what she has to offer, but instead only feels necessary by the nature of her role in the story overall. Melissa Leo puts in a little screen time, literally, while there are also a few other notable players whose roles are so small it doesn't really make a difference. In that it re-enforces the feeling of complete complacency that surrounds the film while for some reason still being able to engross me and not let me go. Maybe it's the fact I wanted it to be better, or maybe I will realize how much I missed and enjoy it that much more the second time around because there is no doubt I will be seeing this film again, and very soon in hopes of finding something more out there and maybe even more meaning that what Jack ultimately lands on.