Microsoft Canada

Apr 12, 2013

PLOT: In the future, Earth is attacked by an alien race and the surviving members of humanity taken to a new home. Jack (Tom Cruise) and his wife Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) stay behind to protect machinery harvesting the planet’s resources, but Jack starts to suspect there is something amiss with his mission.

REVIEW: Living in a tower suspended above the Earth's surface, he (Jack) repairs the drones that protect the machines that are draining the ocean to power the mission to Titan, while she watches as his communications officer, liaising with the Tet's mission control (Melissa Leo) and warning him of any attacks from the Tusken Raider-like Scavs. They've got two weeks before their mission is over, but Jack is still curious about Earth and is dreaming about a mysterious woman (Olga Kurylenko)... that he ends up pulling from the wreckage of a crashed spaceship just before she can be killed by the drones. Who is she? And what secrets will she reveal about the world and the people that Jack and Vika are working for?

The trailer has already given away a good deal of what follows, and you may be able to guess where the film's going. Director/writer Joseph Kosinski's story cribs liberally from other more familiar sci-fi tales, including one recent cult hit which mentioning the name of would likely tip you off to the film's big secrets. So it's a familiar tale, but one elevated here by some strong execution.

Kosinski's first film, "Tron: Legacy," was pretty dreadful, but "Oblivion" makes clear that, with a less confused script, the director has real talent. An architecture professor on the side (yes, really), the same immaculate sense of design is in place in the film, with the world of Oblivion an ordered, geometric one, full of circles, squares and triangles, sitting atop chaos and ruin. It's a strong and distinctive aesthetic, clean and bright in a way that's reminiscent of '70s sci-fi fare, and with "Avatar" and "Life Of Pi" Oscar-winner Claudio Miranda serving as DoP, it's mostly spectacular to look at, not least in IMAX.

But Kosinski has improved as a storyteller, too. The screenplay can drift towards the expository sometimes, but is well-structured and twisty enough to keep you involved for much of the running time. There's a crispness to his direction which makes the action coherent and exciting and gives a real sense of awe to the devastated landscapes. 

He's not quite there when it comes to the human beings yet, though it does mark an improvement on Tron: Legacy, at least. While your view of the film may end up depending on your level of tolerance for Tom Cruise, we found him relatively sturdy in the lead role, even if it's something of a cypher by necessity. The script occasionally smacks of having being rewritten to show that Cruise is an Ordinary Human Man Who Loves Sport Like You And Me, but the star gets some strong material in the second half of the film that makes it one of his more impressive recent performances. Still, it would have been much more interesting if the actor had let his freak flag fly a bit more, rather than putting his focus on being relatable.

The supporting cast don't fare so well, with one exception.But there's still a lot to admire in the film, not least that it's engaging from the first moment to the last. And we suspect that in the season of blockbusters to come, there won't be all that many films we'll be able to say that about.

On one level, Oblivion is a strong sci-fi riddle boldly staged, yet that’s only half its ambition. As a story of a man struggling with his place in the world and with the power of love to conquer all, it’s as dry and crumbly as its nuked landscape.

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