Cruise's Oblivion a visually stylish post-apocalyptic trip

oblivion2Tom Cruise plays drone repairman Jack Harper in Oblivion, a stunning visual feast from the director of Tron: Legacy, Joseph Kosinski. In this post apocalyptic science fiction epic, the world as we know it has changed radically since a devastating war with an alien race called the Scavs. Humans were victorious, but the world is no longer habitable, most of humanity now living on Titan, a moon of Saturn. With his partner Victoria Olsen (Andrea Riseborough) as backup, he patrols the skies, fixing drones that guard and maintain huge water processing plants that send water and energy back to Titan to help keep the human colony going.

Jack and Victoria live high above ground in luxurious accommodation and make regular reports to the head of mission control, Sally (Melisso Leo), who resides in a pyramid shaped satellite called the Tet that orbits Earth. Mysteriously their memories have been wiped for security reasons. While Jack is curious about the past, his partner Victoria wants him to focus on the present. They only have two weeks until they finish their tour of duty, before they both head to Titan to join the rest of the human race, and Victoria is keen to get there.

When a mysterious spacecraft crash lands on Earth, Jack's universe begins to unravel. Why do the robotic drones he repairs try and kill the survivors? What exactly were their past lives like? Why does one of the survivors he rescues look so familiar?

The setup is great, with a healthy dose of intrigue. Tom Cruise is excellent as Jack and brings his character to life with skill and subtlety. The two female leads, Olga Kurylenk (Jack's wife Julia Rusakova) and Andrea Riseborough both put in powerful performances and effectively add to the drama. Morgan Freeman as the human resistance leader Malcolm Beech, is good but seems to have little to do, while Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, most famous for playing Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones, is memorable in a brief role.

The drone design is superb. As well as some amazing honking and clanking sound effects, their movements and actions provide genuine chilling moments as well as the occasional humorous note. The post apocalyptic landscapes (New York in particular), and the design of Jack's bubble ship, also stand out.

Rather than string endless action sequences together, Kosinski provides a steady pacing that matches the apocalyptic vistas and suits a story that focuses on Jack's viewpoint as he discovers, piece by piece, the real truth about his past.

Where Oblivion fails is in the final chapter. While the setup is outstanding and some of the dialogue excellent ("Are you an effective team?") more back story should have been added to make the final revelations credible. As it is, there are too many plot holes to fill and not enough detail to make the film's sparse narrative hang together in any sensible way. The cliched, derivative elements of Oblivion's storyline may have been easier to take if that detail had been there.

Still, Oblivion is not a bad film, the production values and visual look are outstanding, the acting well above average and the pacing spot on. At times it reminded me of Duncan Jones' Moon or Michael Bay's The Island. Just don't think too hard in the second half and especially after the final credits roll.

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