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'Oblivion' (2013) - Film Review


Director: Joseph Kosinsky

Starring: Tom Cruise, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko & Morgan Freeman

Those pesky alien invaders are always stirring up trouble for Earth. This time around they've surpassed themselves by destroying most of the Moon, wreaking havoc with our weather system and then forcing us to use nuclear weapons to beat them. It's no surprise then that mankind have decided to move house, with their hearts set on a lovely little place called Titan. But first, there's a bit of administration to take care of. In preparation for leaving Earth, Cruise and Riseborough are tasked with maintaining Earth's robotic sentries and defending several water purification plants against the few leftover alien scavengers, "Scavs," who won't admit defeat. It's a fairly isolated job, and Tom spends most of his day flying around in a super-neat helicopter-cum-spaceship, repairing equipment, killing scavs, and collecting little artifacts from Earth's history. You see, unlike the rest of the humans waiting to leave for Titan, Mr. Cruise seems to harbour a strange attraction to Earth's past, and what's more, keeps dreaming about meeting a woman at the Empire State Building—even though it was years before he was born. Is there something wrong with him, or is it everyone else?

Kosinsky's directorial follow-up to the excellent Tron: Legacy finds him firmly in science-fiction dystopian territory, and just like the efforts of the 60s/70s (Logan's Run, Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man, THX 1138), the theme of "one man at odds with his present" is always appealing. If you read deeply enough, there's definitely a profound social commentary going on, mirroring our contemporary hopes and fears about life. But on an entertainment level, this film still delivers the goods. The cinematography and sets are awesome, and Cruise's delicate performance is top-notch (his reaction when he gives Riseborough a flower is filled with subtle emotion). Despite their isolated existence, the two leads are not entirely alone, with limited support from Kurylenko (the woman in his dreams) and Freeman who pops up later in the movie unnecessarily wearing sunglasses indoors.

Oblivion carries a minimalistic magnetism for the viewer. Not much really happens, but it's enthralling from start to finish and this keeps it fresh right to the end. The attention to realism is certainly a benefit. Despite being set in the future, the fantastic technology used is always functional to the story without becoming its chief benefactor. Some reviewers have unfairly given mediocre ratings because of the minimalism and similarities to those other 1970s classics, but they are missing the point. The best science fiction films are not about emulating the past or portraying the future...they are always a commentary on the present. This film, in my opinion, does just that. It's imaginative multilayered entertainment with a great ending, and great science fiction to boot.

© 2018 Chris Sandles

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