Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) enjoys the New York City skyline in Oblivion.

Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) enjoys the New York City skyline in Oblivion.

Reel Reviews: Cruise’s latest shows beauty in the bleakness

Oblivion is Tom Cruise's latest leap into sci-fi territory, but is it effective?

  • Apr. 28, 2013 3:00 p.m.

Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is one of the last drone repairmen remaining on a desolate Earth. When a spacecraft containing some humans in hibernation crashes down, it presents a mystery that, when unravelled, changes Harper’s ideas about the reality of his life, the Earth and its history.

We ask, “Is it an effective movie?”

HOWE: It is an effective movie. A lot of people don’t like Tom Cruise movies, but I find them entertaining and Oblivion is no exception. I found it drew me in with its mysterious storyline: What really happened to planet Earth, who are the scavengers and what are the dynamic duo of Jack and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) really doing there?

TAYLOR: I’m definitely not a Cruise fan. He’s all right; he’s just always the same, more of movie star than an actor. However, Oblivion is an interesting film that finds beauty in bleakness and keeps secrets from even itself.

The audience becomes a sleuth along with Cruise’s Jack Harper, working his way through memory problems, vague instructions from his employer, the distractions of life and, finally, the presentation of undeniable evidence.

The film seems to have a lot of contrived plot devices that create the mystery. For instance, Morgan Freeman’s character is coy in his revelations to Harper, because “he wants him to come to his own conclusions,” rather than “give us another 20 minutes of film.”

HOWE: Oblivion is one of the best sci-fi movies I’ve seen in a long time. Director Joseph Kosinski did a pretty amazing job with the cinematography: from the desolate wastelands to the lush green valley. Pair this with the amazing soundtrack and he has come up with something special.

TAYLOR: The cinematography was interesting, as we’re the landscapes. It felt like it was part Hawaii and part Iceland, lots of rocks. There was also a sort of Planet of the Apes look, with famous landmarks, such as the Brooklyn Bridge, haphazardly sticking out of the soil.

The problem with Oblivion is that it feels too much like other sci-fi movies —The Matrix, Moon, 2001: A Space Odyssey — that rely on the audience figuring out what is going on. Unfortunately, these other films have much richer environments and more rewarding conclusions.

HOWE: They are good movies. I was on about some of the movies that have come out in the last year or so that were trash, such as Total Recall or Prometheus.

I think the strength of Oblivion is the acting: Cruise does what he always does and Freeman is reliable as clockwork. But it is the performances of Victoria (Riseborough) and Julia (Olga Kurlenko) that holds Oblivion together.

TAYLOR: Time holds Oblivion together, as in: You’re going to have to wait for the payoff to see if it’s worth watching. It’s not a bad film, it’s just a bit bland and for a movie that relies on its ultimate reveal, a bit disappointing. Tom Cruise, as usual, is negligible.

— Taylor gives Oblivion 2.5 retirement plans out of 5.

— Howe gives it 4 pairs of Ray Ban aviator glasses out of 5.

— Brian Taylor and Peter Howe are freelance film reviewers based in Vernon, B.C. Their column, Reel Reviews, runs in The Morning Star every Friday and Sunday.