Joseph Kosinski’s first directorial effort was 2010’s TRON: Legacy, a film that, despite how much I enjoyed it, was only decent. His second directorial effort, as well as his first to write and produce, is Oblivion, which, due to my enjoyment of TRON: Legacy, I was actually looking forward to quite a bit, especially since I have been enlightened to the acting talent of Tom Cruise in the last year. I listened to the soundtrack for the film by M83 and Joseph Trapanese for a full week and a half in anticipation. I must admit that I still only expected this to be a decent film, but, thankfully, this was a rare instance in which my expectations were exceeded.
Oblivion tells the story of Jack Harper (Cruise) and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) as they live on a post-apocalyptic Earth. We are told that aliens invaded sixty years prior to the events of the film, but the humans won in nuclear war, leaving the Earth ravaged and forcing the humans to evacuate to Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. Jack is a repair technician who repairs drones that protect hydrorigs, which are sucking up Earth’s water to transport to Saturn, acting on orders rather than memory; he was forced to have his mind wiped fifteen years previously, though he still has vague recollections of a past that he doesn’t remember. He collects books that he finds and imagines what the world was like before all of this, but his partner is content to follow orders – two more weeks until the two of them get to join the rest of the human population on Titan. But when a space module crash lands and Jack pulls a survivor (Olga Kurylenko) from the wreckage before the “scavs” (remaining aliens from the war who sabotage the drones and hydrorigs) can get to her, he asks more questions than ever, throwing his and Victoria’s world into even further disarray.
Sound complicated? It is, a bit, but I never found the film’s complexities to be a burden. In fact, I sat on the edge of my seat the whole time, eagerly asking myself, “What’s going to happen next? How are they going to resolve this? Why did that just happen? What does this mean?” Cruise is the obvious highlight of this film, bringing his usual talent for action along with appropriate drama and a refreshing humanity that we don’t always see from him. Andrea Riseborough as Victoria, Harper’s partner and lover, gives a powerfully emotional performance as the sort of voice of reason, the one who is only interested in doing what she’s told rather than asking questions. Morgan Freeman’s brief but incredibly important role as Malcolm Beech, leader of an underground resistance, plays into Freeman’s typical “father figure” sort of role, but it doesn’t feel canned, and Olga Kurylenko as Julia, the survivor from the space module, gives a decent performance as well.
The story is somewhat reminiscent of Pixar’s Wall•E, though I won’t explain all the similarities here lest I spoil the film for you. The themes of asking questions/searching for answers and thirsting for knowledge vs. the fear of knowledge are powerful and well-represented here, with symbolism running rampant. For example, Jack Harper has a secret cabin on a plot of green earth near a pond that he found; this is where he stores the books that he finds, from medical dictionaries to Horatius to A Tale of Two Cities. This area is the obvious representation of the previously mentioned thirst for knowledge. There is also one moment where Harper presents Victoria with a can containing a flower that he has cared for, but she promptly tosses it out the window, citing regulation and contamination (there’s an obvious Wall•E parallel), which is representative of her fear of knowledge.
Ever since I walked out of the theater, I’ve been debating what rating to give this film. I knew it was at least a 4/5, though I thought it could easily be a 4.5 as well. I wanted to give it 5/5, though I know it’s certainly not a perfect movie. However, given my enjoyment of it, I think that a 5 is a perfectly reasonable rating; it’s got a smart script, a capable and talented cast, an appropriate score by M83 (assisted by Joseph Trapanese), and it asks questions that we can all learn from. Despite its flaws, Oblivion is a fantastic film, proving that 1) Cruise is not only a wonderful action star but also a capable dramatic actor and that 2) Kosinksi has a lot of future potential as a great film director.
Rating: 5 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality/nudity
P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by M83, here!