Release Date: April 19, 2013
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Writers: Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt (screenplay); Joseph Kosinski and Arvid Nelson (comic book)
Stars: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko
MPAA Rating: PG-13
While watching Oblivion, you instantly feel like you are in good hands. The post-apocalyptic sci-fi saga feels appropriately epic and does a great job integrating action sequences and CGI effects. Writer/director Joseph Kosinski is a confident storyteller who knows exactly where he wants the story to go and how he wants to get there.
Now where the film ultimately ends up and the explanations it provides to the audience felt a bit underwhelming to me personally, but the journey it took getting to that finale was an incredibly enjoyable one. So if you go in hoping for a stellar resolution to the film’s core mystery, you may walk away disappointed. But if you simply want to be whisked away to a colorful, engaging world for a few hours, Oblivion may be the film for you.
Set in 2077, the film centers around a two-person salvage crew keeping an eye on a mostly-uninhabited Earth as the planet’s oceans are mined as resources for Titan, the new planet all humans fled to after Earth was attacked by alien Scavengers. Tech 49 Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is tasked with flying over his region every day to make sure his drones are operational and that the remaining alien Scavengers haven’t sabotaged any equipment. Support is provided by his partner/girlfriend Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), who keeps in touch with the team on Titan by communicating via satellite with their commander Sally (Melissa Leo).
Jack and Victoria only have two weeks left on Earth before their tour is done and they can join the rest on civilization on Titan. Victoria wants nothing more than to ride out their remaining days quietly. But Jack is haunted by a reoccurring dream of a time before the war and is plagued with a curiosity that causes him to pick away at a few bits and pieces of their command’s story that don’t quite add up. As he launches into his own unsanctioned investigation, he begins to uncover some rather disturbing things.
Kosinski does a great job immersing the audience in this sci-fi world. It’s a beautifully shot movie with a lot of wonderful CGI elements. The drones, which are floating white orbs equipped with optical lenses and automatic weapons, are so quirky and full of personality that they are a joy to watch. They have charisma, which helps sell them as more than just a computer-generated effect. And Jack’s spacecraft, which he uses to survey his assigned area, is also a very well-designed and aesthetically-interesting creation.
All of the action scenes are well-executed as well. There is a fluidity to the action that makes it a fun to follow. And Kosinski avoids the choppy, overly-shaky and quick cut style that has become all too common in films these days.
The film also features some really wonderful performances. Tom Cruise takes a lot of hits online for his eccentricities off-camera, but the guy is a great actor full of charisma and that undefinable movie star quality. Morgan Freeman, who appears in the film in a small supporting role, also lights up the screen every time he crops up. Melissa Leo injects a lot of personality into Sally as well.
But the really surprising standout performance in the film is Andrea Riseborough’s portrayal of Victoria. Victoria is a rich, complex character who needed a strong, nuanced performance from an actor to sell the role. On the surface, she is a very calm and polished partner and lover to Jack. But she desperately wants to get to Titan and doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardize it.
As Jack begins picking away at things, a panic sets in and she tries to dissuade him. But so much of her arc in the film is an internal struggle that occurs just below the surface. Riseborough finds just the right tone to play Victoria in a way that never seems inauthentic or over the top. I can’t say enough good things about her performance. She’s fantastic in the role.
On the flip side, the film’s one weak link is Olga Kurylenko, who plays an astronaut named Julia. Julia and the rest of her team crash land into Jack’s area and upset the status quo. Her role is an important one in the film, but Kurylenko unfortunately comes across rather stiff and devoid of personality in the film.
But the rest of the performances more than make up for Kurylenko’s. And overall, the films vast strengths help to overcome its other weakness, which is the ultimate explanation and resolution to the central mystery about what Sally and the others aren’t telling Jack and Victoria.
Oblivion isn’t a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination. But it is a well-made one that is full of personality and charm. So if you are in the mood for a solid sci-fi flick and value the journey over the destination, I recommend giving it a shot.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.