Oblivion arrives firmly within the canon that is a Tom Cruise movie. But, in the end, this film is really at its heart a Joseph Kosinski movie. Kosinski first made his mark with Tron: Legacy, and Oblivion arrives as an idea he had for a film long before that sequel landed on screens in 2010.
Cruise plays Jack, a futuristic repair guy who is essentially one of two people left behind on Earth. See, aliens invaded and although humans won the war, because we used nukes, the place is basically uninhabitable. So, Jack has to patrol the landscape to ensure that the natural resources culled from the planet we used to call home continue to be shuttled to the orbiting manmade world where humans live above the Earth.
Meanwhile his colleague/love interest Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) mans their home/ground control and ensures that he comes home safely each day.
The most impressive thing about the film, seen in the Oblivion trailer, is the scenic and production design. You have never seen anything like it before and evidence of Kosinski’s architectural background is all over.
From the look and feel of the flying automated pods that ensure safety while occasionally threatening our characters, to the bubble flying machine that Cruise flies to and from the architecture marvel that is Cruise’s home above the clouds… Oblivion is a vision in futuristic filmmaking.
Oblivion’s cast is sparse, and that fact only contributes to the desolate feel of this world. Olga Kurylenko is bloody fierce as the mysterious Julia, who we first meet in dreams Jack has that haunt his very soul. She literally drops into the story in a way that turns what audiences thought was happening on a dime.
Morgan Freeman dazzles as Beech, whose story was hinted at in the second Oblivion movie trailer. He is some sort of mysterious leader of an “are they human?” rag tag group. When his story collides with Cruise’s, the promise of a Cruise-Freeman pairing takes flight. The duo have known each other for decades, but waited for the right project to team up.
It was worth the wait, in the sense that these two have an onscreen volley that is equally mysterious and marvelous. Be warned, it is short in terms of screen time, but just as Al Pacino and Robert De Niro made the most of their time in Heat, so too do Cruise and Freeman in Oblivion.
The biggest surprise in the ensemble is someone who clearly took the role in Oblivion with the famous Hollywood phrase in mind, “There are no small roles -- only small actors.” Academy Award winner Melissa Leo is Sally, the individual Cruise and Riseborough report to on the mother ship.
We only see her on a small black and white monitor whose reception is average at best. With so little to work with, the actress conveys the power of those in charge and the sensitivity of someone who is vested in the crew she’s leading. And because of Leo, it all adds up to one heck of a twist ending that is compelling, if not somewhat advertised about halfway through.
But there is something that is still vexing. Never before have I seen a film that was at the same time wildly original, yet felt like it still paid tribute to The Matrix, Moon and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Our Oblivion review can state that the film is good fun. There is nothing Earth-shattering about it, but we cannot think of a better way to kick off the summer movie season than with a sci-fi adventure starring Tom Cruise that actually requires its audience to think. And that brain usage during movie viewing will be rewarded by its conclusion.