Oblivion's Beautiful Ambition Buried Beneath Weak WritingApr 19, 2013
Joseph Kosinski hit it big with Oblivion. Having only directed Tron Legacy (which was only a moderate success) ,he was able to get $120 million to write/direct/produce his pet project. This is a huge privilege that some directors spend decades trying to obtain, but Kosinksi did it in his second outing. And not only that, but he also got some heavy hitting actors like Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman on board to further convince us that this should be a one of a kind movie from the mind of a single person(a rarity in Hollywood). Based on everything we've seen, the movie looks beautiful, but has also played things pretty close to the chest in terms of story. Does Kosinski produce an incredible story that lives up to his creative ambition, or does this sci-fi miss the creativity and land in the realm of obscurity?
Oblivion follows the story of Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), a man living in 2073 who is tasked with his wife Victoria(Andrea Riseborough) to repair drones and assure the remaining resources on earth are extracted without problems. In this future, earth was invaded but humanity survived by using nuclear weapons which has rendered earth uninhabitable. The only things left on the ground are alien scavengers (scavs) that prey on remaining human life. While doing the day to day operations Jack tries to figure out his dreams where he is in love with another woman(Olga Kurylenko) living another life in another time. After the scavs send out a signal to a desolate location, Jack investigates to discover pods with people in them; one of them being the woman he has dreamed about. After starting to dig deeper, Jack gets tied in with an anonymous group of people led by Malcolm Beech(Morgan Freeman). Before Jack gets to return home, he must face some difficult challenges and face some uneasy truths.
The story and the setting of this movie are boiling to the brim with potential, but sadly this movie fails to capitalize on many of the most interesting ideas it lays out. There are moments when it seems as if the movie is about to hit a stroke of brilliance as certain plot details are revealed, but the movie never really explores the importance or implications of these ideas. It was in these moments that I wondered whether this movie was the victim of either an underdeveloped script or was tampered with by the studio. I tend to think that it may have been the former, which is sad seeing as how well so many other parts of this movie work together wonderfully. The story for this movie works on a basic level, but given another draft or two and we could have been looking at one of the best science fiction movies to hit the big screen this year.
Aside from the darkly spectacular visuals, Tom Cruise is easily the best thing that happened to this movie. He brings the same every-man charm to the table along with that obnoxious yet irresistible smile that somehow works for Jack's character. Cruise plays the character exactly like you would expect him to, but still brings in some extra layers to what is essentially a two dimensional character. The rest of the cast is poorly used on characters that are so generic, forgettable, and altogether one dimensional that the movie feels devoid of any real pathological appeal. This is a huge letdown for those of us who have been excited to see Cruise and Freeman finally get some screen time together, and unfortunately Freeman is wasted on a character that could have been played by pretty much any actor that can walk, talk, or breath(not in that order). Andrea Riseborough plays an overbearing and paranoid wife who never really gets enough to do while Harper's dream woman essentially becomes an accessory that he carries around with him. Melissa Leo and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau also have small appearances that are serviceable for the plot, but hardly more dynamic than their roles demand.
Seeing as Joe Kosinski was given $120 to play in his own personal sandbox, one would think that this movie would be better for being under one man's vision, however; this movie never really quite gets all its ducks in a row which is a shame. Oblivion had a lot going for it, the most obvious of which is the breathtaking visuals that regularly occupy the screen. The dark era of a long lost civilization has never looked more stunning, especially on the likes of the IMAX screen. Despite the fact the earth of Oblivion is dying, the impressive attention to detail creates a world that feels very much alive. The visuals are only enhanced by what I believe is the best cinematography I've seen this year. The movie earns full marks on visual presentation, but aside from that the movie never really comes together. It's clear that Kosinski isn't an actor's director as the performances here feel stilted and boring. This direction style feels like its in the same league with that of George Lucas who was always more focused on visuals over real human connection leaving Oblivion as a whole feeling cold.
Oblivion is a visual feast for the eyes with a great lead and some truly admirable ambition, but at the end of the day is left feeling hollow and characterless. There were plenty of moments in the movie where I was in awe of the creative imagination that went into this film, but these moments were met tri-fold with moments where I was bored, confused, or rolling my eyes with contempt towards some awkwardly written dialog. This is a solid matinee movie for hardcore science fiction fans, but for everyone else this movie is better left off fading away into oblivion.