Director Joseph Kosinski knows how to create a visually-impressive world. In Tron: Legacy (2010), he created a world of video games that seemed both beautifully simplistic and masterfully realistic. In his new drama Oblivion, he has now created a gorgeous futuristic world where the Earth has been destroyed but new technology has created homes above the clouds of utter and stunning beauty. It is unfortunate then that the film’s plot seems ill-suited to the world around it.
The underrated Tom Cruise (who often thrives in action pictures) was well-chosen as the lead here. He stars as Jack, a technician charged with protecting the Earth’s resources from native scavengers. Years earlier, much of the planet had been destroyed in a war between humans and extra-terrestrials. The humans had won but the planet was ruined in the process. But now living in space, the humans still need some of the Earth’s resources to survive. Jack and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough)—living in a sparse home high above the planet—must protect those resources.
Unfortunately for him, Jack is afflicted by vague memories he still has, even after a memory wipe. He remembers having a romantic relationship with a woman (Olga Kurylenko) but knows little beyond that. On one of his daily visits to Earth though, he begins to understand that his world may not be what it seems and that there’s a reason that his fond memories seem so real.
For the first hour, the film is composed of showing Jack’s daily routine with Victoria. She communicates via a video monitor with her supervisor (Melissa Leo) while he takes daily missions to Earth. Fixing droids and reminiscing about the world that previously was, Jack finds solace in solitude, creating a home away from home where he can read freely. Victoria, on the other hand, follows the precise rules that she’s given—never allowing an Earthly object to trespass in her home.
In the second half of the film, we are introduced to Beech (Morgan Freeman), who with his actions and words, changes the story’s trajectory and pushes it in a completely different direction.
The concepts and the ideas in the story are well thought-out and intriguing. But the meandering and ultimately disappointing plot does the film few favors. Here and there, we see the glimpse of a great movie that could have been but nothing—beyond the visuals and Cruise himself— are truly memorable. The story’s final act treads on typical sci-fi fare but is a welcome respite from the earlier proceedings, which seemingly drag on and on.
Cruise was an interesting choice for the lead role here. In other action films, he appears more assured of himself and his work but here he is asked to play a man as confused by hid present as he is by the past. He plays the role accordingly, offering up powerful facial expressions (when dialogue is scarce) showing his pain and sadness when he realizes the truth about his surroundings.
He’s a powerful presence in the story and the visuals stand out as well. It’s too bad that the meandering plot doesn’t deserve such support.
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