By Jonathan Kellam
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
★★★½ out of ★★★★
Tom Cruise – Jack
Andrea Riseborough – Victoria
Olga Kurylenko – Julia
Morgan Freeman – Malcolm
Melissa Leo – Sally
When I saw the trailer for Oblivion I was not overly impressed. It looked like just another big budget Tom Cruise movie ridden with CG to cover for its lack of substance. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Oblivion is an alluring and graceful sci-fi adventure that has clearly taken notes from some of the best films in the genre. It begins with another routine day in the lives of Jack and Victoria, who are partners professionally and romantically. They are among the last humans on Earth. The destruction of the moon and a subsequent invasion by an alien race has decimated the planet and humanity is relocating to Titan, a habitable moon of Saturn. Several rigs have been built to harvest seawater for transport to Titan and it is Jack and Victoria’s job to make sure that these rigs are not endangered by Scavs, remnants of the alien forces. They receive their daily orders from a pleasant woman named Sally who is stationed on a vessel called the Tet, which is located just outside of Earth’s atmosphere. They have just two weeks to go before they are replaced and transported to Titan themselves when Jack makes a discovery that changes everything.
This is the best sci-fi movie I’ve seen since Danny Boyle’s underappreciated masterpiece, Sunshine. Oblivion is a beautiful film with stunning cinematography, stylish set decoration, and a haunting and elegant original score. Some have complained that the story is not original enough, but, well, it is. Sure, there are some elements in it that have also been in other movies, but why is it that some movies are held to this standard of having to be completely original and others are not? Iron Man and Batman Begins are both about a rich guy who becomes a superhero that relies on technology and gadgets as opposed to superpowers and I didn’t hear any complaints then. The acting is superb and this is coming from a guy who is far from Tom Cruise’s biggest fan, although I do think his role should have gone to someone younger. As a fan of the sci-fi genre, I can tell that a lot of love and care went into this film. It was not a just a mindless sci-fi “blow ‘em up” type like one of the Transformers sequel. Also, the drones that wander the wasteland hunting for Scavs are possibly the most sinister machines to grace the screen since HAL 9000, so props to the production team for that creation.
The only other directing credit to Joseph Kosinski’s name is TRON: Legacy, another above average sci-fi epic. When sci-fi has devolved into the likes of John Carter and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, we’re going to need a director like him to continue making respectable films in this genre. He’s currently in talks to direct another TRON sequel.
I understand the appeal of Tom Cruise. He’s consistent, he’s handsome, he’s bankable, but…he’s just not among my favorites. Far from it. It’s not that I think he’s a bad actor, I just rarely see him in a movie and can’t immediately think of someone who could have done a better job in the role. Also, being 50 years old (although he could pass for 35), I just thought he was too old for this role. This character had a curiosity, naiveté, and even an innocence to him that I think would have been much more appropriate in someone under 35. Andrea Riseborough is terrific as his caring, but somewhat distant, partner. You get the feeling that neither of them completely understands or even trusts each other, but they do care about each other. Cruise and Riseborough do a great job in acting out the dynamics of this relationship. Olga Kurylenko hits all the right notes as a mysterious astronaut named Julia. I’m hoping to see much more of her in the future. Morgan Freeman is amazing as always, but I’d be shocked if altogether he had more than 10 minutes of screen time. Melissa Leo also has restricted screen time but she chews the scenery every chance she gets as the eerily chirpy Sally.
If you enjoy the sci-fi genre, big budget action movies, or are just a huge Tom Cruise fan, please go see Oblivion despite its lukewarm critical reception. I just don’t think some of these critics were entirely fair. It’s the most fun I’ve had at the movies all year.