Oblivion by Joseph Kosinski

Oblivion by Joseph Kosinski

A veteran assigned to extract Earth’s remaining resources begins to question what he knows about his mission and himself.

Unlike a lot of science fiction films that often have busy mechanical designs and crowded backgrounds, there is a very distinct simplicity to Oblivion’s production designs. The empty barren Icelandic landscapes, machines and buildings built in straight clean lines and the bright daylight all help create an effective atmosphere. The film is beautifully shot and finds a natural beauty in post-apocalyptic destruction. Often I found myself just gazing upon the landscapes and felt awe watching huge robotic monolithic ships harvesting the Earth’s water. Oblivion should definitely print a production art book.

The best performance in the film is Andrea Riseborough’s. A lot of the intrigue and mystery of what’s really going on behind this world is built from Riseborough’s performance. The intrigue is built so well that the beginning section with her and Tom Cruise makes up for the more interesting portion. She plays a very fine line between someone who is concealing a secret or not wanting to know the truth. As the audience, we cannot tell which one it is.

There are little Americanisms in the film that are problematic. At the beginning, Tom Cruise’s character lands an aircraft on Earth. As he gathers his gear, he puts on a New York Yankees baseball cap. Why? Even if it were a blue-collar habitual daily routine, why wouldn’t he have put it on before flying the aircraft? Wouldn’t there be more sun in the sky than in the ground? It’s not a big deal, and it took me out of the movie a bit.

Oblivion draws upon a lot of science fiction films in the past. Example? Let’s just say Tom Cruise jogs on a treadmill that is not rectangular. For that, science fiction fans may have a harder time enjoying Oblivion as they may fall into an accidental game of ‘spot the reference’. I personally didn’t have a problem with that. It doesn’t bring anything new to the science fiction genre but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Jack Reacher by Christopher McQuarrie

Jack Reacher by Christopher McQuarrie

A homicide investigator digs deeper into a case involving a trained military sniper who shot five random victims.

So on the height debate, I have never read the Jack Reacher books, so I do not have an impression of the character in my mind. However, it’s irrelevant that Tom Cruise is not 6″5. Hugh Jackman is technically much taller than Wolverine in the comics. And even though they make everybody taller than him in the movies (imagine the budget of apple boxes on every X-men movie), nobody’s arguing that his height ruins his performance as Wolverine. At the end of the day, it’s a question of medium. Lee Child stated that he wrote Jack Reacher to be 6″5 because he wanted Reacher to feel like an enormous presence in the reader’s mind. As film is a visual medium, one can build a person’s presence by adjusting how you film an actor and the actor can perform a larger-than-life personality in his performance.

That’s exactly what Tom Cruise brings to the table. Not since Collateral has Tom Cruise created such a powerful onscreen character. The Jack Reacher character embodies a lot of qualities that we enjoy seeing Tom Cruise play: a savvy maverick (pun intended) who can handle any situation and deliver funny zingers as he’s doing them. The biggest thing going against Cruise is his own stardom. With the amount of information we know about his personal life and his star power, some people may not buy Tom Cruise playing a “Man with No Name” archetype who is shrouded in mystery. It’s a legitimate argument, however, Cruise plays against his stardom as much as he can. I understand that Jack Reacher in the novel is a womanizer and they downplay that here, probably as a way to help shape Tom Cruise into more of a normal person for the movie. He does not grin his way through this role, and in the sum of it all it made a huge difference for me.

The film has an all round great cast. I’m a Werner Herzog fan and he was actually the initial reason why I wanted to see this movie. Herzog brings a chilling presence to his villain role that pushed me into nervous hysterical laughter every scene he was in. Knowing the funny stories behind Herzog, I would say it was 40% scared by his character, 60% laughing giddy because it’s Werner Herzog. Technically that means I’m taken out of the movie by having this pre-existing knowledge, but for me personally it engaged me even more.

Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel is a story conscious cinematographer. He is aware that he’s making a crime thriller and uses cinematography to punctuate thriller conventions. He frames the shots in a way that maximizes the tension for each scene, keeping the viewer unnerved and agitated throughout the film. Deschanel understands that visual spectacle is most effectively earned when people believe what they are seeing. A noteworthy example is a car chase sequence in the film that is covered in a series of long shots designed to ensure the audience that Tom Cruise is indeed driving the car performing all the stunts. It was one of the best car chases I’ve seen in a long time.

Christopher McQuarrie is a competent director and I look forward to his work as a director. It’s nice to see a screenwriter make his way into a director and earn their visions. It shows in the film. The best part I enjoyed about Jack Reacher was that it reigns itself in. It understands set-up and payoff and plays like an old fashioned suspenseful thriller where the mystery patiently unfolds itself before the audience. Much of the fun factor comes from the fact that Jack Reacher is ahead of the film’s characters and the audience in figuring out what’s going on. It engaged me and I found myself shifting forward on my seat anticipating what was going to happen next.

I wish there was more I can say about how much I enjoyed it, but that’s about it. Tom Cruise, forget your beloved Mission:Impossible franchise

Next up!

Okay, I’m still trying to catch up on stuff that I’ve seen in the summer all the way to new current films.

  • The Dark Knight Rises by Christopher Nolan (a very long review and analysis of a trilogy)
  • Rust and Bone by Jacques Audiard
  • Argo by Ben Affleck
  • Jack Reacher by Christopher McQuarrie
  • Chinese Zodiac 12 by Jackie Chan
  • The Grandmaster by Wong Kar Wai