Oblivion (3 1/2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy)
Written by Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek (Tresspass), Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Melissa Leo, and Morgan Freeman
I think the the most common complaint I have heard with regard to this film is "been there done that." Some of the most common themes throughout this film have been seen before, a desolate New York City landscape (Planet of the Apes), a bright glowing red light alien (2001: A Space Odyssey), robots mining the ground for safety which is similar to themes from Wall-E, and many more. Over the years many themes throughout sci-fi have been shower rinsed and repeated, and while this film has many of repeated, but this film is still well made and is harkens back to classic sci fi films.
Oblivion centers around Jack (Cruise) in 2077 who is sent on daily missions to extract resources, and fix drones who protect the Earth from aliens, Scavs who attacked Earth. Earth is in a desolate state and Jack along with his partner Victoria (Riseborough) carry out the tasks from Sally (Leo) on the space ship, which hovers above Earth, and holds the some of the people who made it out safely from the attack. While on the missions Jack sees glimpses of his past, scenes of him on the Empire State Building with an unknown woman, something he can'e help shake. After a ship crashes Jack saves a woman who is almost killed by a drone, and the pieces of this peaceful missions start to fall a part, and the glimpses of the memories he once had start to unfold.
Joseph Kosinski whose first feature film was Tron: Legacy steps up his directorial game. While Tron was a bloated mess Kosinski has found this incredible balance which create great action packed drama, while never shoving the intense action packed world down our throats. There is one scene where Jack is involved with a chase in his cruiser (do not want to give out any spoilers), and the direction blew me away, one solid action sequence that had me on the edge of my seat. One of the other key pieces is the land he creates within this film, Kosinski has an architectural background, and this leads to creating some of the most beautifully designed areas, from the base where Jack and Victoria live to the destroyed New York Public Library.
Kosinski was also the architect for the original graphic novel, which this film was based. The film went through numerous re-writes, and while the writing is not bad, the strength of the film is not within the script. The script was originally co-written by William Monahan, but Karl Gajdusek stepped in (and is credited) and Universal had Michael Arndt do a final overhaul on the script. While the writers did a good job of making the complicated story, well less complicated there were moments when the love story fell flat, or they held on too long to a concept or an idea, like what the radiation zone actually was.
The thing which makes this film beautiful is the visual effects combined with the imagery captured bye Life of Pi cinematographer Claudio Miranda. These two elements create a film, which has some of the most haunting moments that leave you wanting to be able to reach out and touch this world. Miranda's shot of Jack and Victoria swimming, and under water were beautiful along with the dark and desolate dessert mixed with the hope of the life growing in the forrest. Together these elements created a visual mind field of greatness. Combine that with the perfect futuristic sounding score from M83 and the technical aspects make the film what it is!
In the end I have to give credit to Tom Cruise, while many dislike this man for his personal beliefs you can't hold against him that he is, and has continued to be one of the strongest leading men for a long time. Cruise has the charisma you long for on the screen, and his believability within this role, helps you connect to his own journey as Jack reaches (great pun right-Jack Reacher-I digress) for a something which feels real in an artificial setting.
Oblivion is much better than expected, and never say "this has been done before" because if you used that as excuse to say a movie is sloppy or bad, you would be saying that about most films. This film is by no means perfect, but separates itself from most tent-pole action films with heart and determination.