Monday, September 16, 2013

Review: Cruise Dominates Visually Splendid "Oblivion"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 63 (of 2013) by Leroy Douresseaux

Oblivion (2013)
Running time:  124 minutes (2 hours, 4 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality/nudity
DIRECTOR:  Joseph Kosinski
WRITERS:  Karl Gajdusek and Michael deBruyn (based on the original graphic novel story by Joseph Kosinski)
PRODUCERS:  Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Duncan Henderson, Joseph Kosinski, and Barry Levine
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Claudio Miranda (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Richard Francis-Bruce
COMPOSERS:  Anthony Gonzalez (score), M83, and Joseph Trapanese

SCI-FI/DRAMA/ACTION with elements of a mystery

Starring:  Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and Melissa Leo

Oblivion is a 2013 post-apocalyptic science fiction drama from director Joseph Kosinski.  The screenplay is based on an unpublished graphic novel that Kosinski created for Radical Comics.  Oscar-winning screenwriter, Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine), wrote the final draft of the screenplay under the penname, Michael deBruyn.  Oblivion the film stars Tom Cruise as technician who begins to question his mission on a war-torn future Earth, now a dying planet.

Oblivion opens in the year 2077.  Earth was nearly destroyed 60 years earlier by an alien race called the “Scavengers” (Scavs).  Most of humanity has moved to Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.  Jack Harper, Tech 49 (Tom Cruise) and his lover and partner, Victoria “Vika” Olsen (Andrea Riseborough), are among the last humans on the planet.  Jack is a drone repairman, maintaining the planet’s defensive drones that guard massive ocean-borne power stations.

After a crippled starship enters his territory, Jack discovers that its sole occupant, a mysterious woman named Julia (Olga Kurylenko), seems familiar.  This leads Harper to make some shocking discoveries about himself and about the world.

My friend and colleague, HervĂ© St-Louis, wrote a review of Oblivion, from which I’ve selected the following lines:

...the plot is rather thin and much of the movie is lengthy and boring. It was a film produced for Tom Cruise’s ego...  This movie is meant to show Tom Cruise on the best possible angle at all time and nothing more. (

Tom Cruise apparently received good notices for his performance in Oblivion, but as is the case with most movies in which he appears, the film becomes about Cruise.  Here, the focus on Cruise/Jack Harper comes at the detriment of the other actors and the characters they play.  Thus, the mysterious, intriguing Julia remains a cipher, her captivating past and purpose subverted to serving the interests of Jack Harper’s quest.  This is the case with the equally captivating and cagey Vika, as it is with other characters I won’t name here in order to avoid creating too many spoilers.

That is not to say that Harper isn’t a great character.  There is so much to him, and while this isn’t among Cruise’s best performances, he makes Harper worth following.  However, it is as if we never really get into any depth with Harper.  Perhaps, the problem is the film’s screenplay.  Conceptually, Oblivion is like a novel, covering events that occur over a period of 60 years and happens on a worldwide level.  The actual screenplay for the movie mainly focuses on what would be the equivalent of two short stories at the end of the Oblivion saga.

That makes the film’s plot thin, but Oblivion offers good character drama and sci-fi.  Still, there are long, empty spaces in the story that seem to amount to nothing more than Harper staring off in the distance or flying in that cool Bubble Ship (which I want).

Oblivion is visually striking.  The aforementioned Bubble Ship, the drones, the power stations, and Tower 49 (Jack and Vika home and base) are sleek, showing off a production aesthetic that recalls The Matrix, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and 1970s science fiction films like Logan’s Run, Silent Running, and Star Wars (of course).  It is the visual experience of Oblivion that makes me a fan of this film, in spite of my misgivings about the plot/screenplay and the diminishing of the supporting characters.

7 of 10

Friday, September 13, 2013

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