The summer season begins with the sleek, gorgeous sci-fi film "Oblivion."
The summer season begins with the sleek, gorgeous sci-fi film "Oblivion." Photographed by Claudio Miranda ("Life of Pi"), it is filled with breathtaking shots of Earth in the year 2077, some 66 years after a catastrophic war with aliens (called Scavengers or Scavs) who turned the Earth's moon into fragments, causing apocalyptic earthquakes and floods that resulted in the inhabitants fleeing to Titan, one of Saturn's moons.
Left behind is Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his housemate, Victoria Olsen (Andrea Risenborough). They share a stunning, cantilevered, stainless steel aerie some 3,000 feet above the Earth's surface. Jack's mission is to repair the drones that protect giant hydro rigs that convert seawater to energy for those few still on Earth and for those on Titan. Victoria (aka Vika) is the navigator for Jack's sorties.
The Scavs, though they lost the war, still pose a risk to the rigs and to Jack whenever he descends to the surface in his spidery, jet-propelled helicopter.
A word about the surface: Earth is essentially uninhabitable. There are zones still highly radioactive. Iconic monuments are buried beneath rubble, some barely protruding above the surface. The landscape is starkly barren, with the exception of a garden retreat that Jack visits on occasion, his reminder that Earth still is, strangely, home.
Jack, seeming well-grounded and competent, also is haunted by dreams of a woman he met, pre-war, on the observation deck of the Empire State Building. He realizes, however, that their meeting is impossible because he was born long after the end of the war.
When a spaceship crashes on Earth, he discovers that one of the survivors, having been in suspended animation for decades, is indeed the woman in his dreams, Julia Rusakova (Olga Kurylenko). When he brings her back to the base, the film takes a number of unexpected turns. What has only been glimmers of foreshadowing — Jack is observed by someone as he travels along the surface — turns concrete and adds to the mystery that is, almost from the outset, embedded in the story.
While the script is thin, "Oblivion" is engrossing, carried along by the seamless crafting of CGI. Visually, it's breathtaking. There is a thread, stitched into the third act, that focuses on identity and offers an intriguing, if somewhat elusive and unexpected twist.
An aside: Cruise does a fine, understated job in his role as Jack Harper. However, he has reached that point in his long career wherein, despite his attempt to inhabit a character, he is Tom Cruise doing Tom Cruise and not Harper or Jack Reacher. He would have to transform himself into the senior citizen that he has become, which would then redefine what roles he can credibly play. He's at an interesting crossroads.
Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire," "127 Hours") is an interesting filmmaker whose depth and breadth regarding his narrative choices always surprise. That applies to his most recent release, "Trance," a lurid, convoluted, intense thriller.
What Boyle offers in this film is an elaborate jigsaw puzzle; however, instead of beginning in one corner and piecing together the edges, he begins in the middle and works out, in all directions. Hence, the audience is constantly struggling to find a pattern, a unifying thread. Boyle, obviously, takes delight in providing neither.
The film opens with a London auction house employee, Simon (James MacAvoy) explaining security. Art thieves have, in the past, boldly entered a house, such as Simon's Delancy, and simply taken the about-to-be-auctioned painting and made their escape. Simon is part of an effort to prevent this from happening. The caveat is that he also has pressing gambling debts and is desperate for cash and so enters into a plan with some gangsters, Franck (Vincent Cassel) in particular, to steal Goya's "Witches in the Air." The price tag: $40 million.
The heist goes as planned, to a point. But in the course of stealing the painting, Simon is hit in the head and when he wakes, but there's no painting. And he can't remember what he did with it, even when tortured by Franck and his thugs. The solution? Take Simon to a hypnotherapist, one Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), hoping she can draw out the lost memory.
And so begins a tale of deep hypnotic trances, dreams and surreal connections to reality as the cohort labor intently to get Simon to reveal the location of the painting. This is Boyle constructing the puzzle from the middle and working toward the edges. The film is dark, violent and surprising, and not readily accessible in terms of story. But it still works, especially if you're a fan of the genre. And not to forget the fine performances of the cast, meaning Dawson, Cassel and MacAvoy.
— Chris Honoré