Movie review – Sci-fi in Cruise control

2013-04-21 14:00

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We all fear oblivion – defined as the condition of being completely forgotten – it’s why many of us have children. But there’s one guy who need not fear it: the top of the A-list, Tom Cruise. Even if, in the film of that name, he explores the concept intimately.

Oblivion is a fine piece of sci-fi, an example of how great the genre can be when executed with style, and a genre classic in the making. It is based on an unpublished comic book written by the director, Joseph Kosinski, the guy who rebooted Tron for Disney. This film also started off in Disney’s stable, but its content is far too complex and adult for a family film, so it was sold to Universal.

Cruise is Jack, who, along with his partner in life and work, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), is in charge of maintenance on what is left of Earth. The interplanetary war for the planet was won, but the nuclear fallout ensures no one can return. Instead, humans live on a far-off world called Titan, which relies on Earth’s water to survive.

Hence Jack’s job is to ensure the giant machines sucking up sea water aren’t disturbed by Scavs, the remnants of the alien army that destroyed Earth.

In this unlikely setting, Jack and Victoria are the perfect couple, happy and effective in their jobs. The only niggle is Jack keeps having intimate dreams about a woman he can’t possibly have met, in a time long past, when he wasn’t alive.

In his recurring dreams, the two stand at the top of a skyscraper.

One day, after a particularly horrific encounter with the Scavs, Jack finds a crashed spaceship and its female survivor. When he investigates, it’s the woman from his dreams, Julia (Olga Kurylenko).

For Jack, this begins an exploration of what reality is, what it means to be human in an alien world and how strong and resilient human emotion can be.

It is tricky to say too much more about what Oblivion is about (as well as anything about Morgan Freeman) without giving the game away, but Cruise gives an emotionally genuine performance despite having to be on screen alone much of the time.

Also, much of the background will have been added during postproduction, so he must have spent a lot of time talking to himself in front of a green screen. But you’d never guess that from his, as always, professional and real execution.

Similarly, his two female co-stars are superb. Riseborough was one of the nominees for this year’s EE Rising Star Award at the Baftas and made her debut in Madonna’s W.E. as Wallis Simpson. She, too, spends much of her time alone in the film, talking to a console, but manages to imbue her performance with real bewilderment and hurt.

Bond girl Olga Kurylenko got this role after Jessica Chastain bowed out to take on Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. She is suitably mysterious as the woman who steps out of Jack’s dreams and reconfigures reality.

Kosinski creates a world at once familiar and alien. Much of the filming was done in Iceland, making use of the desolate, volcanic landscape to create a sense of the Earth, but not as you know it.

Also, the craft makers and stylists manage to steer well clear of cheesiness in their creation of advanced tech. The craft Jack flies is familiar and alien at the same time, and he has a motorbike, much like his character in Top Gun.

It ensures Jack never becomes an automaton, but remains recognisable as a regular man, even though his environment is strange and hostile.

This is Cruise’s fourth sci-fi film. The others were the underwhelming Vanilla Sky, the brilliantly chilling Minority Report and the disappointing War of the Worlds, though that had nothing to do with Cruise’s performance.

Film: Oblivion (UIP)

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Featuring: Tom Cruise, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko and Morgan Freeman

Rating: 7/10

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