May Issue 2013
In Joseph Kosinski’s second big-screen feature Oblivion, he borrows science-fiction tropes from iconic films of the genre unashamedly but handsomely. This is an exercise in audaciousness, the twists and turns doubling as reference points to other, far superior films. Frankly, nobody is oblivious to the cinematic theft but in spite its lack of originality, Oblivion is wholly watchable.
In the near future, Earth has become uninhabitable because of wars fought and won against an alien race. Drone mechanic Tom Cruise, sorry, drone mechanic Jack Harper (played by Tom Cruise) is one of the last few survivors, who together with his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) has been assigned the task of warding off the remaining alien invaders. Simultaneously, the two have to extract the planet’s valuable resources for two more weeks before they can fly off to Titan, a moon of Saturn, and join the rest of humanity. So says the spokesperson for the rest of humanity, Sally (Melissa Leo), who is in constant contact with our protagonists via a programme in essence much like Skype but cooler-looking.
After repairing some drones, fighting some mysterious creatures and sharing some intimate moments with Victoria, our hero Jack discovers a crashed spaceship, with one of its pods containing a mysterious woman called Julia (Olga Kurylenko); the same figure who haunted Jack’s dreams in earlier scenes. There seems to exist a shared history, therefore Jack saves Julia from the drones and encounters a whole host of survivors led by a ridiculous character played by Morgan Freeman. All this doesn’t bode well with jealous Victoria, who rats out Jack to Sally. A cat-and-mouse chase ensues, with Jack and Julia running against drones, aliens and Morgan Freeman, just to make sense of their past and who they really are.
It helps that Oblivion is a gorgeous looking film, accentuating the cinematography skills of this year’s Oscar winner Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi). Another point going for the project is its production design; for a film this big in scope, one doesn’t want to be assaulted with a CGI-fest. Also, creations like the Sky Tower or the Bubble Helicopter are works of beauty.
Apart from the cinematography, it is two performances that hold this film together. Tom Cruise saves the world (or does he?) again and he looks like he’s having a lot of fun doing so. After playing an unintentionally funny Jack Reacher last year, he clearly redeems himself with this intentionally no-nonsense character of Jack Harper. Andrea Riseborough’s performance is exceptional. She livens up the screen each time she appears and matches Cruise in every frame.
Much like Duncan Jones’ masterpiece Moon (2009), Kosinski questions the notions of identity and fatalism in this film. So in that respect, Oblivion breaks no new ground, nor is it very thought-provoking. However, Kosinski strangely manages to string together a narrative which is never dull, therefore resulting in a film you won’t at all regret watching.
Schayan Riaz is a film critic based in Germany