The year is 2077 and Earth is living in the aftermath of an alien invasion. With the planet gutted and the last survivors seeking the last of the Earth’s resources with the promise of colonisation to Titan, maintenance repairman Jack Harper, along with his colleague, Victoria, have only two weeks left of their tour of duty before Earth is finally evacuated.
But Jack is living with dreams of a life lived before his memory was wiped, memories that are resurrected due to the arrival of the woman who has haunted his dreams in a crash landing, an arrival which holds implications not only for Jack and Victoria, but the remainder of Earth’s survivors.
Considering that “Oblivion” has Tom Cruise has the lead role, you could be mistaken for thinking “Popcorn Flick”. I must admit that I was. Instead, what I was greeted with was a film that has all the hallmarks of a “Popcorn Flick” married together with a fair amount of smarts.
For fans of Dystopian books, you have a plot with the real hallmarks of fiction in that genre – a ruined planet Earth, people with a loss of identity and societies built upon secrets.
Director Joseph Kosinski manages to combine his work as a film director (this project was initially developed as his first directorial gig before he ended up working on “Tron: Legacy”) and his artistic background (“Oblivion” became an unpublished graphic novel before it was picked up again as a film project) to create a film that manages make the bleak landscapes of a gutted Earth look beautiful with varied landscapes along with recognisable US landmarks being CG’d in. With the film being released in IMAX, as well as the standard cinema format, you are able to see why as Kosinski makes ample use of his canvas to sell his vision for the story.
But to say that the story is solely built on beautiful visuals and special effects would be doing this film a disservice as Kosinski, alongside his fellow scriptwriters, have built a storyline which, on the face of it, is a “Last Days of Earth” style story, but there are additional layers to it, primarily through the plot device of Jack’s curiosity for the Earth that he is going to leave behind and the riddle of the memories that he is experiencing, despite his memory wipe.
In fact, more than meeting the initial eye perfectly describes Tom Cruise’s performance in this film. Yes, you do get the man of action that has been pretty much the hallmark of the majority of Cruise’s career, but it’s the layers underneath that are more fascinating. Cruise’s performance gives a sense of Jack’s affinity and curiosity for the pre-war Earth with scenes such as his visiting an old football stadium and experiencing the atmosphere of a touchdown or his predeliction for classic literature being pointers for the character’s progress in the film. He also sells the troubled and haunted aspect of Jack well, particularly when the character experiences memories, which is important for the revelations that unfold once Olga Kurylenko’s character makes her full entrance.
Cruise has two romantic interests in the film. For the majority of the film, it is the character of Victoria, portrayed by Andrea Riseborough. Ms Riseborough’s performance counterbalances Cruise’s in so much as where the character of Jack has an element of curiosity about him, Victoria is detached about the Earth, seeing it as a temporary posting until they make their journey to Titan. She also portrays the embodiment of order in the Jack/Victoria team, whereas he is insubordinate and reckless. Granted, the romantic relationship between Jack and Victoria has a sterility to it, except for a scene where it is clearly apparent that she is hurt and jealous of the relationship that Jack builds with Julia, but this tees up Jack’s doubts due to his memory and the final shocking revelation as to how the Jack/Victoria relationship came about.
It’s difficult to speak about Olga Kurylenko’s role without giving away too many spoilers. Initially, her character of Julia haunts Jack, telling of a life prior to the war, but she is given a significant role once the character crash lands, figuratively and literally, into Jack’s life which, as I say above, has ramifications not only for Jack, but for the established relationship that he has with Victoria. Suffice it to say, Ms Kurylenko has been afforded a better role in this film than she was in the Bond film “Quantum of Solace”, and I hope that she gets more interesting and diverse roles in the future.
Additional lead support is provided by Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. All are great in their respective performances, but to say too much about their characters would go beyond the level of spoilers into ruining the central plot devices of the film.
The special effects work well alongside the cinematography in the film to round off the stark beauty of the film and the soundtrack by M83 matches that stark beauty throughout, in particular the closing credits track, “Oblivion”, performed by M83 and Norwegian artist Susanne Sundfor.
One word of warning though, if you have thought about seeing this film and have not seen the trailers, I would urge you not to see them. They give away far too much information about one of the central plot strands of the film, which led me to guess it correctly.
“Oblivion” is a beautifully executed film and whilst it’s not going to be a classic, it is very well worth watching for people who have an appetite for solid film-making, Dystopian fiction or sci-fi.