Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Oblivion, dir. Joseph Kosinski, scr. Joseph Kosinski, William Monahan, Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt, based on Oblivion by Joseph Kosinski and Arvid Nelson, st. Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Morgan Freeman, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo

In many ways the hulking behemoth of Cruise's ultimate star pulling power is a perfect match for Kosinski's brand of visually arresting but substantially anemic film-making. At fifty years old, questions such as whether he's actually a capable or credible actor seem to have fallen by the wayside years ago. This is his twentieth $200m+ grossing film. He's more product than person. Yet I've always held a torch (well, one of those LED keyring things at least) for Cruise, as while I accept that he's an actor of limited range and dimension, he's incredibly natural in front of the camera, a skill that no doubt comes from decades working with every director, co-star, genre and style going. And while Oblivion may suffer from bloodless character development, Cruise's presence ensures us not having to worry about any troublesome flaws in our protagonist's psyche that might undo our rock-solid empathy with the hero; it's Tom Cruise, it'll be fine. But the characterisation and the plot (culled from many sci-fi greats past) is mere window dressing to Kosinski's world of beautiful desolation. Much like his earlier Tron Legacy, there's much to look at it and not much to do. The healthy budget has been conscientiously employed to include Icelandic volcanic vistas as set locations, 360 degree wrap around front-projected sky-tower cloud-scapes (from real Hawaiian mountain-top views), as well as all manner of scientifically-authenticated crafts and tech. To casual onlookers it might look like the same bored futurism, but for design geeks, it's deliciously intricate and stunningly executed. In a strange way, it seems weirdly possible to overlook the fact that Coster-Waldau is severely underused, or that Freeman might as well have not been in it at all, or that Riseborough's Victoria Olsen, despite continually stating she and Cruise's Jack Harper make an effective team, clearly don't, or that she takes part in probably the most ludicrously epic swimming scene in the movies ever since Elizabeth Berkley's thrashing like a beached bottle-nose in Verhoeven's Showgirls. Big clunkers that would sink any other film, but which sail by in Oblivion with not much bother. Because it's a film that sees Hollywood in all its hollow, vapid glory, a sugary caffeinated hit of dumb fantasy with an appropriately massive and unsubtle score by M83, a film in which Tom Cruise saves the planet, again, surrounded by all the smoke and mirrors biggest-budget Hollywood sci-fi has to offer. And who doesn't want to see that?