HTML> "Oblivion" ~~ a Cinema Signals Movie Review by Jules Brenner
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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience. MOBILE: |
. "Oblivion"

than This movie reminds me of how much I like non-3D movies when they achieve the visual brilliance that this distopian sci-fi thriller does. As with many films that give us a bleak view of our future, the thing around which the drama revolves is the concept.

The year is 2077. In 2017, aliens with advanced technology attacked earth, destroyed the moon and left the planet a decimated mess before they were vanquished. But, though humans apparently won the battle, remaining alien "Scavs," or Scavengers -- dark, freaky critters -- prowl for humans they can destroy, making up a cadre of resistance fighters.

To combat this mortal threat, humans are controlling things from their huge tetrahedral space station they call the "Tet." One of their armaments designed for this purpose is a small fleet of armed, robotic drones (wherever did they get that idea?) which are programmed to seek and destroy Scavs. That is, when they're working. When they go down, for one reason or another, the humans up in the Tet have their male/female, memory-wiped team in the work tower on earth to deal with the problem.

But The two consists of Jack Harper, aka, Technician #49 (Tom Cruise), who goes from the lush modernist pad in which they've taken residence, down to the surface of earth to fix the drones; and, secondly, communications officer Victoria (Andrea Riseborough, "Happy-Go-Lucky") who reports to and stays in contact via video link with their Tet commander Sally (Melissa Leo, "The Fighter"), a woman with all the heart of a sociopath. That's harsh. Let's just say "she's doing her job." After all, doesn't she always end her sessions with Victoria by asking if she, Victoria, and Tech49 are an effective team? Such concern. But, this is Teteze for, "are you following the rules?"

The primary part of Tech49 and Victoria's mission, however, is to protect the planet's resources and the extraction machines that feed the needs of the Titan colony. Titan is represented as an ideal place to go to -- an Eden awaiting humans when their mission is complete. For Victoria and Jack that's in two weeks time.

The movie begins with Tech49 arising from bed and donning his smart spacesuit and weapons, a holstered handgun and a mean-looking heavy rifle. Ammo is of the laser variety -- no clips necessary. In the bed also is the super-efficient Victoria who contacts Sally for the day's mission: two drones in need of repair.

The big BUT, here, is that Jack is seeing images, in dreams night and day, that he correctly identifies as memory shards from his former life. The so-called "security wipe" of his memory that he and Victoria had to go through to get this cushy job was less than perfect, and he's a man caught between two realities. There's a woman he sees in his visions whom he thinks had an important role in his life before the alien invasion. When he starts talking to Victoria about leaving their job for his secret earth hideaway, she doesn't understand. Her lover is going bats and she worries about not being "an effective team."

But, the complications are only beginning. New York's Empire State Building still stands. When the Scavs use it as a homing beacon to bring down the Odyssey, a spaceship that might have been Jack's ride home, he discovers humans in hibernation capsules, all but one killed by a Scav party before Jack could kill them. The survivor is the woman he's been seeing in his visions. Julia (Olga Kurylenko, "Quantum of Solace"): his "real-life" wife. Naturally.

Around this time, Jack makes another discovery, with a character played by the esteemed Morgan Freeman.

You can see where this is going as far as the human factor. Victoria's not going to like this when her Jack brings a gorgeous female to the work station. Besides the jealousy that now inflames her, she's got to dodge Sally's questions to avoid giving away the abnormal developments.

But Sally can read her officer on the other end of the comm feed like a wizard with a deck of cards and what's been set in motion is pointing toward unexpected consequences for everyone. In fact, thinking about wizards, the revelations are lining up as too-liberal twists on the real and the unreal.

What passes for logic is, shall we say, strained, which accounts for a mediocre critical reception for the last act surprises that don't stand up to mild scrutiny. I have to admit, the narrative liberties don't pass the story integrity barrier. But Kosinski gets away with it. There's too much earnest effectiveness and suspense in his vision to write it off. Besides, I'm a sucker for concepts of advanced technology.

Of course, this is first and foremost designed to provide a platform for Cruise's physical skills. Which is not at all bad for us action fans. What Cruise does with his talents has given us some considerable thrills ("Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" Remember that sequence at the top of the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai?). I wanted to see this film badly because it was a Tom Cruise vehicle and, though the physical requirements weren't as extreme as some of his work, I was not disappointed. He may not be the kind of actor to win Oscars, but his strengths, including taste for material that allows him to make the most of them, compensate for deficiencies.

Nor was I disappointed by the rest of the cast, most notably Riseborough who played the perfect not-quite-a-person person. Kurylenko is pure screen candy. And Leo is acutely acidic as befits a Tet officer.

All of which goes to the credit of Joseph Kosinski ("TRON: Legacy") who produced, directed and co-wrote the adaptation from his unpublished graphic novel which was edited by Radical Comics. The representation of this evacuated world is nothing less than spectacular in all visual respects. As said, with visual perfection like this, who needs 3D and its color desaturation?

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                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Tom Cruise is Jack Harper, aka Technician 49
in a world of drones and other enemies.

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