Sunday, April 21, 2013

Review: Oblivion

If you have seen Tron: Legacy, then you know that director Joseph Kosinski has a very good eye for visual flair.  For all of Legacy’s narrative shortcomings, it was indeed a visually stunning film worthy of an IMAX and/or 3D viewing.  In his latest film, Oblivion, Kosinski brings that same panache and combines it with stark post apocalyptic imagery reminiscent of films like The Day After Tomorrow to paint an intriguing backdrop against which the plot of the film unfolds.  Unfortunately that narrative, billed by some as a mind bending sci-fi plot in the vein of Inception and Looper, is slower, less complex, and less intelligent than the aforementioned films.  The result is a product short on substance wrapped in sleek packaging.

The plot of the movie finds us in a post apocalyptic Earth ravaged by war with alien Scavs.  Forced to abandon the planet, the human race has large machines mining the planet for water in order to facilitate their relocation to Titan – a moon of Jupiter.  The film focuses on Tom Cruise’s Jack, a tech officer who has been left behind with Andrea Riseborough’s Victoria to maintain drones, charged with protecting the machines from the remaining Scavs.  When an unknown spaceship crashes to earth, it leads to a series of events that forces Cruise’s Jack to take a hard look at everything he believes to be true.

If the movie simply aspired to be a post apocalyptic sci-fi romp with humans and aliens squaring off, there are enough plot elements and stunning visuals to successfully accommodated this.  Unfortunately, after a number of writers and re-writes, the desired direction was something a bit more intellectual – not your average run of the mill action movie, but rather a clever tale with one or two big reveals designed to send your mind into a tizzy.  Unfortunately, the clever part may have been lost in one of the re-writes or perhaps on the editing room floor.

The best parts of the film are when there is motion, movement, and action.  There is a rich visual landscape to support this type of narrative.  The worst parts of the film are when they are setting up the more “intellectual” aspects of the plot.  Too much time is dedicated to the painstakingly slow exposition that is not as nearly clever or engaging as Kosinksi and crew believe.  Despite this, what ultimately dooms the film is its inability to engage on an emotional level.  The way it is framed and unfolded, I couldn’t help but feel like I didn’t have a dog in this fight, which is odd since it was a fight for the survival of the human race.  It just never felt like the stakes were that high.

As for the work of the cast, it felt like it was Tom Cruise and then everyone else. Cruise will never be recognized as a great character actor and really only has two different gears, but he’s a workhorse who is dedicated to his craft.  He isn’t great in this movie as he spends stretches of this movie in cruise control (pun intended), but the work he does in scenes evoking isolationism and nostalgia are some of the best in the movie.  It’s not nearly his best work, but I walked out of the theater feeling he did about as much as he could considering the script.

The same cannot be said for Morgan Freeman and Olga Kurylenko.  Kurylenko has an excuse.  She is a not-particularly-gifted actor, who is hard to connect with, as she seems nearly incapable of genuinely emoting on screen.  I don’t think it is a stretch to assume that the reason she gets cast in movies is that she is very easy on the eyes.  Morgan Freeman on the other hand has no excuse for his poor showing.  He is a very good actor (Shawshank Redemption, The Dark Knight) with strong screen presence, who completely mails in his performance.  It’s a lazy disappointing turn that cripples the plot at a crucial juncture of the film.  To say that Freeman’s star faded significantly for me after watching this film is an understatement.

As for the rest of the cast, Andrea Riseborough as Cruise’s tech partner Victoria is satisfactory.  She does a descent job of portraying a detached and oblivious pawn, while Melissa Leo shows herself a bit better as Sally – the face of mission control.  She is cold and robotic with just the right amount of creepy to hint that something is amiss.  However, neither of these performances is impactful enough to elevate what is completely pedestrian work from start to finish.

If the preceding seven paragraphs have said anything, it’s that Oblivion is a mixed bag that is not nearly as clever as the creative team believes it to be.  I liken this project to Icarus, the mythological figure who dared to fly too close to the sun.  In aspiring for too much, Kosinski and crew crash and burn what could have been an entertaining (albeit vacuous) action flick.  I don’t think you should go out of your way to see this film in the theater or add it to your movie library at home, but a convenient cost-effective viewing at some point on your own terms probably won’t leave you feeling completely burned.  My guess here is that Oblivion is just the first in a series of movies that over the next few months will garner this same reaction.

Standout Performance: Melissa Leo.  Her character hits just the right pitch to hint that things are amiss.


Post a Comment