Oblivion

Oblivion wants to a big science-fiction epic with things to say about the human condition. Whilst it does have that – the film touches on some very contemporary fears in the shape of drones, genetics, artificial intelligence, the trustworthiness of God and the ubiquity of Morgan Freeman – it’s let down by one big problem. I call it the Return Of The King problemPrecisely: the film appears to end at least three times before it actually does. In the case of the third film in the Lord Of The Rings, I was able to forgive that because I’d been so richly entertained over the previous two and half films. Peter Jackson had by then earned some self-indulgence (someone tell him, by the way, that he has to earn that all over again now). By the time Oblivion tricks you into thinking it’s ending for the third time, it hasn’t done quite enough to buy you off. Nearly, but not quite.

It’s a Tom Cruise film. I’m not averse to him as a leading man and with the right director or the right material he can be really good (Mission Impossible franchise, Magnolia are my first exhibits for the defence); he doesn’t have enough direction or material to do that here. What he does have is a plot twist which buys him and the under-used Olga Kurylenko out of what could be thought of as some lazy acting. Halfway decent genre-films like this need to demonstrate an awareness of the genre’s classics first, and Oblivion does that. It’s a science-fiction movie set on a ravaged earth in a future where earth’s inhabitants have won the war but lost the planet. Tom Cruise and his partner are on clean-up and security duty. So, duly invoked we have – in no order – Moon, Forbidden PlanetSilent RunningTerminator and a whole load more. Unfortunately it pales by comparison because there’s no energy to the direction, no shock, no fear, no convincing self-doubt when it’s needed. The big twists may be fairly unexpected, but they’re also unconvincing; all shown up, and not in a good way, by the problem of the three endings. By then, two hours had felt like a lot more.

This is not a bad film; there’s enough in here to divert, provoke and entertain (and, if you’re a preacher, provide a handful of illustrations). It’s just not good enough to really stay in the memory and let you explore those thoughts more deeply. Which makes your realise, ironically, that Prometheus was a much better film than many realised.

I rated this film 3.5/5 on rottentomatoes.com and 6/10 on imdb.com

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Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher is huge. In two ways. First in popularity – the books about him, by Lee Child, sell in vast quantities. That’s vast as in a lot. They are mystery/action thrillers about a man called Jack Reacher and a lot of people buy them. He’s also huge in that one of the few physical details given about him in the books is that he is very tall. He’s a former military policeman who lives in the shadows, appearing and disappearing at will. But he’s a big man.

So the movies that would eventually, inevitably appear based on the books were always going to be a big deal. So here’s the first one. With Tom Cruise playing Jack Reacher. As you have doubtless read, there are problems with that. Tom Cruise is instantly recognisable. I like him as an actor – anyone who can pull of Magnolia and the Mission: Impossible films in one career has something going for him. But he’s too famous. We’re not going to buy him as living in the shadows. We’d spot him. Also, while Cruise is huge (in terms of star power), he’s not huge (in terms of height). We all know he’s short.

The film bearing the character’s name, based on one of the books, is a decent, solid, exciting action thriller. It’s not in Skyfall‘s league, but it’s involving and entertaining, lifted by a bonkers cameo from cult art-house director Werner Herzog as a criminal mastermind. Tom Cruise, though, just doesn’t convince. He’s not shadowy enough, he’s not sinister enough. He doesn’t scare. I haven’t read the books, so I asked someone who has. It wasn’t  hard to find one, as I’m married to her and she was sitting next to me in the cinema. “He’s too short and too pretty” she said. That’s it, in a nutshell.

What it needs, we decided, is an American version of Jason Statham – hard, tough and with a sense of unpredictability. There’s enough here to make me want to see more from this character. There’s enough here to tell me there’s an even better film to be made around this character. For now this will do, entertaining and exciting; my wife felt it caught the spirit and tone of the books well. The only problem is Tom, a good leading man who’s leading the wrong movie.

I rated this film 3.5/5 on rottentomatoes.com & 6/10 on imdb.com