Sunday, 16 August 2015

Film Review #80

Oblivion (2013)
Director: Joseph Kosinski Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo

Certificate: 12 Running Time: 124 Minutes

Tagline: "Earth is a memory worth fighting for."

Earth is dying. That's the bleak message we are given by Commander Jack Harper (Cruise) at the opening of this adaptation of Joseph Kosinski's unpublished graphic novel. It's set in 2077, around 50 years after a devastating war with the invading Scavengers (or Scavs), an alien race forced to leave their own world and who are now keen to exploit the resources of our precious home. It wasn't a direct invasion at first though. The Scavs first blew up our moon which threw the world into chaos. Enormous earthquakes struck within hours and huge tsunamis took care of much that remained. Then came the invasion. We fought back. We used the nukes, and eventually defeated the Scavs, but earth was left a poisoned ruin and most of her population gone. The survivors relocated to Titan with just a handful remaining behind to oversee the massive fusion generators which are slowly draining the oceans to produce energy for the colonists.

Jack contemplates stuff while the generators suck away...

Among those left behind are Harper and Vica Olsen (Riseborough) who occupy Tower 49. From this base of operations, Vica coordinates with mission controller Sally (Leo) who is high above in the immense space station known as the Tet. Their job is to keep Jack safe as he spends his days searching for and repairing the robotic drones that guard the fusion generators while avoiding sporadic attacks by the remnants of the Scav forces who continue to fight. He has a small, rocket-powered aircraft to get around in, and a compact motorcycle for ground-level, but he can't stray too far as Tower 49 is located in a safe zone but surrounded by contaminated radiation zones. Both Jack and Vica have undergone mandatory memory wipes for the 'security of their mission' but, while Vica is happy to go about her duties and eagerly awaits the end of their assignment when they 'join the others' on Titan, Jack isn't so sure.

This is the Tet. It's pretty big and shiny...

As well as going about his laborious duties efficiently, Jack is unsettled by the state of the world around him, unlike Vica. In his own words, "The questions I ask, she doesn't. The things I wonder about, she won't"... He has a secret, idyllic hideaway where he retreats often, and is also haunted by dreams (or visions) of a woman at the Empire State Building from back before the devastation. Things get a bit more complicated, however, when a pre war spacecraft called the Odyssey enters - or is brought into - earth's atmosphere and crashes close to Tower 49's position. Against mission control orders, to Vica's dismay, and in failing light (which means possible Scav activity), Jack investigates the battered old craft and finds that it contains humans in stasis... including the woman from his visions. Could that constant nagging feeling of Jack's finally be getting some answers, or will it just lead to even more questions?

Beech and Kingslayer look on with concern...

Of course, it isn't too long before we, along with Jack, start finding out what's going on, mainly thanks to some unexpected revelations from a group of survivors led by Malcolm Beech (Freeman) and his suspicious second, Sergeant Sykes (Kingslayer). For a majority of the film's run-time, though, there are very few characters - just Vica, being all sullen and super-serious at her fancy control panel, Julia (Kurylenko), the initially-confused Odyssey passenger with a possible past connection to our hero, and of course Jack himself. The casting of these three parts was therefore something the producers needed to get right, and happily they did for the most part. The only one I wasn't really convinced by was Riseborough's Julia who seems a bit too cold and controlling for my tastes. The reason is quite obvious once you've seen the film but she should still have been a bit more rational and conflicted if you ask me.

Julia and Jack get (re?)acquainted at an old haunt...

But the others? Kurylenko's Julia is just the right amount of innocence and mystery without ever seeming threatening but her arrival also seems a bit coincidental, especially as it seems to immediately prove at least some of Jack's suspicions. Cruise, as usual, is on great form as Jack. His unease is apparent right from the off as he reminisces about old football games when he's supposed to be fixing a downed drone, sits on cliffs contemplating stuff while keenly watering the small flower he's managed to grow, and immediately springing into action whenever anything remotely unusual happens. He even takes the odd nap at his secret lakeside cabin when he gets the chance. We quickly find ourselves wondering the same sort of things as him too. How could we not? The world he inhabits is a ruined one, incredibly so, but the explanations for past events and plans for future ones all seem a little too perfect.

Jack zooms over what remains of a New York street...

Well, aside from the apparent near total destruction of humanity and most of our dwellings of course, and some might argue it's actually this that is the real star of the film. Despite the huge destruction, of which we see little (just Jack's small corner of New York really), it's portrayed in a believable way. Whether it's wrecked, half-buried blocks of skyscrapers with water-falls cascading down them or the crumbling remains of an old football stadium, it's hard not to feel a sense of awe at the events that must've caused such carnage, and it's juxtaposed nicely with the lovely shiny tech that has presumably been developed since the war like Jack's jet/spaceship thing and the scary (and very well-armed) drones. These wonderful effects along with the strong lead performance make Oblivion immensely watchable for me - the story may not be complex but it is intriguing, and not too predictable either, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

RKS Score: 9/10


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