Let me start off with a football anecdote. A man called Sir Alex Ferguson once said he had the best team in the league; his adversary at the time Arsene Wenger famously retorted “everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home”. Unfortunately a pretty wife doesn’t make the best wife. Joseph Kosinki’s sci-fi dystopia epic Oblivion is a gorgeously photographed film, however the inconsistent, thin, boring plot and blandness of the characters are too distracting to be distracted by the distraction. Gosh, that’s annoying.
Tom Cruise plays repairman/soldier Jack Harper, whose job is to repair drones damaged by Scavengers who invaded the earth 60 years ago. As Cruise ominously states in the prolonged voiceover:” We won the war, but lost the planet”. He along with the very efficient Victoria (or Vica) played by Andrea Risenbourgh are stationed on earth and are its last two inhabitants and they work as an ‘effective’ team repairing the drones. They’ve been the last ones for a while; but central command which is stationed in space tells them that they only have two weeks left until they can leave for humanity’s new home called Titan. Jack is quite a talented repairman, being able to handle a gun with ease (which seems to be the norm with any character Tom Cruise plays.).
The first act is very promising. We’re dazzled with beautiful long shots and special effects that depict the war-stricken world. As we discover this world through Jack’s eyes we start to see how much he misses the world pre-war. He dreams of going back there, he also dreams of a mysterious woman (Olga Kurylenko) who he sees in another life. As if on cue, Jack rescues this mystery woman who’s revealed to be Julia when he sees her pod fall from the sky after being blasted out from her ship. As the film progresses and Jack is kidnapped by resistance leader Malcolm Beech, and Jack quickly suspects that his authorities are hiding something from him.
The premise up to this point is quite absorbing. Konsinki (director of Tron: Legacy) shrouds the first act in mystery and is paced out quite nicely. But unfortunately that’s where the fun ends. As Jack starts to realise there’s more than meets the eye, we start to realise there isn’t much substance beyond the glorious aesthetics we’re bombarded with. If exquisite cinematography and awe-striking visuals (flawlessly executed by Life of Pi’s Claudio Miranda) is your thing, than Oblivion is a film worth paying for, the night scene with Vica and Jack is faultless. However the thinness of the characters becomes painfully apparent as the film trudges on. In a film that revolves around seclusion, we rarely invest any sympathy in Jack, Julia or Vica, however it is slightly striking when Vica is reduced to tears when Jack’s memory wipe starts to wear off. However, these instances are few and far between. Even when we start getting answers by the dozen from Beech, it’s explained in an uneven and unconvincing way. Might I add the talents of Freeman are astoundingly wasted. His distinctive voice doesn’t carry one memorable line.
The acting is far from memorable, yet I think Risenbourgh and Kurylenko do the best they can with underwritten characters. Cruise isn’t spectacular, but in the moments when he’s on the Earth’s surface without company, you can feel his character’s sense of isolation and loss. Konsinki triumphs in creating a futuristic, detailed and grand landscape decimated by war but I think if he put as much detail into his characters we’d be able to relate more. This is post-war, why don’t I feel great sympathy for the remnants of the human race?
Oblivion is meant to impress with its cinematography and production design and it succeeds in that. The opening is well executed and it honestly feels like it’s going to be an interesting film. With a weak story and even weaker characters, the film ultimately descends into Cinematic Oblivion.