A Thorn Between Two Roses
As Joseph Kosinski’s follow-up to Tron: Legacy is about memories and the legitimacy they confer upon events, it’s perhaps worth rummaging around our minds, trying to remember what his last movie was like. Tron looked astounding; an embarrassment of crisp, clean images, overlaid with Daft Punk’s electronica, but it was a necropolis for characterisation and plot; the kind of flick that pumped the senses but threw a cold towel over the brain. Perhaps determined to prove that he’s a storyteller as well as a technician, Kosinski’s encore is a far more successful marriage of art direction and incident, though the story lacks the colour and grand design of the Star Wars inspired visuals. The barren Earth of 2077, A New Hope’s centenary, resembles Tatooine but, in a homage too far, there’s also a desert where the humanity should be.
The devastated Earth is nevertheless a feast for the eyes. The marriage of post-apocalyptic landscapes – oceans reduced to deserts, littered with rusted oil tankers and cities buried under dunes – with Apple-inspired tech, is a winner. Cruise’s “mop up crew” is a future shock couple comprised of him and Andrea Riseborough, the two living together is a sleek, clinical looking, cloud-level apartment, which initially looks to have fallen into the trap of belonging to a movie future that’s oppressively utilitarian in design, thanks to the narrow imagination of the production designer, but is later redeemed by a plot twist that casts this impersonal and featureless living space in a new light. What this second act revelation says about today’s Apple fetishists is another matter, though fans of minimalism and museum living will no doubt note a criticism in the production’s decision to make a rustic wood cabin, stocked with Vinyl and old tat, a symbol of Cruise’s basic, unspoilt humanity.
Darren Gilford’s designs are striking and the control that Kosinski exhibits – the careful pace that never becomes too slow, the meticulous composition of each shot; something that’s likely to become a trademark for this director; holds the attention. There’s something reassuring and old fashioned about the enterprise; the man and woman living in future isolation, ruffled by an interloper (shades of Stanley Donen’s Saturn 3), the remnants of our old civilisation, reduced to Titanic levels of decay – we’ve seen it many times before, yet it’s re-presented here with a confidence that belies the derivativeness.
As with most Tom Cruise movies, the most interesting element is Cruise, not least how the star’s ego warps and reshapes the material in its own image. Oblivion suggests it should have its own credit. As in Jack Reacher, in which a sinewy, increasingly leathery Cruise, solicited the fawning attentions of Rosamund Pike, a love interest 17 years his junior, in Kosinski’s future he’s at it again. If there’s something a little creepy about a fantasy in which a 50 year old man is trapped in the stratosphere with an adoring 33 year old, a woman in a near permanent state of arousal, then the arrival of a second love interest, Olga Kurylenko, 35, recasts our lead as a walking mid-life crisis.
Though his character does his best to downplay the situation, feigning discomfort as these two beautiful, young feminoids vie for his affections, there’s the sense that Cruise himself gains a lot of satisfaction from the scenario. One wonders if there’s a clause in his contract that forbids the casting of any laydeh that isn’t at least 5 years shy of her fortieth birthday.
If this old man’s fantasy reminds us of the aforementioned fling between a wizened Kirk Douglas and Farrah Fawcett in orbit of Saturn (one of Saturn’s moons features as a plot point in Oblivion), then the production design makes it impossible to think of anything else. The movie’s strewn with phallic imagery – the Washington monument, the top of The Empire State Building, the first movie appearance of the new World Trade Center, topped out with CGI; even the Cruiser’s ship looks to have a giant pair of balls. You’re left with the ugly impression that the movie is as much about propping up the diminutive star’s sense of virility (Cruise’s reproduction being another plot point) as it is about entertaining the masses. We must hope that the women don’t get younger as Cruise gets older as the result could be illegal by the time he hits his seventies.