Kosinski’s star continues to rise, but Tom drones on

This is the second feature from the celebrated commercials director Joseph Kosinski. As might be expected, it bares some resemblance to his first film, the long awaited Tron sequel (Tron: Legacy, 2010). Despite some shortcomings, that film featured an incredible soundtrack by Daft Punk. Oblivion is scored by M83, but certain tracks shamelessly mimic the Daft Punk score. Likewise, the futuristic aesthetic remains similar too, albeit using an entirely different colour palette. Primarily a pristine, white film, much of the main action happens in aircraft and an apartment that sits perched on top of a mountain, above the clouds. Much of the aesthetic and high-tech kit looks as though Kosinski hired Apple’s design team for his art department. Of course, when the narrative does dip into much darker, less sterile environments, the contrast is felt and the impact that much greater.

Though based on an unpublished comic book by Kosinski, the film feels oddly up-to-the-minute. Set in the wake of a devastating war with alien invaders, the film’s narrative revolves entirely around flying robot drones. These are dispatched by the omnipotent mission control, whose giant space station, TET, orbits the planet surveying everything. Their only contact with TET is via fuzzy commlink with the mission leader Sally, who enquires condescendingly at the end of every conversation “are we an effective team?” in an unmistakably thick Texan accent. The team to which she refers is American pilot Jack Harper (Cruise – in how many films has he been named Jack, John or Joe something? Or Jerry?) and the perky English redhead Victoria Olsen (Riseborough). These coworkers turned lovers have had their memories erased (though a crucial plot point, the reason for this is never satisfactorily explained) and are assigned to carry out routine maintenance on flying drones that go about conducting Earth’s clean-up operation. This includes the extermination of any alien scavengers left stranded on the planet, now forming resistance forces. When Jack and Victoria’s tour of duty is over, they will then be free to join the rest of humanity in a new colony on Saturn’s moon Titan. Things inevitably become more complicated, however, when Jack discovers a strange Russian woman named Julia (Kurylenko), who seems to know him and whom he recognises from his dreams …


Should this film ever reach the White House, Barack Obama may find it uncomfortable to view. Even in the not-too-distant future, flying robot drones are presented as lethal: a frighteningly dangerous, unstable and ultimately ineffective technology. Likewise, the forced amnesia of our two cross-Atlantic protagonists might be intended to function as America and Britain’s conveniently short-term collective memory – particularly when it comes to international relations. As Jack unravels the mystery that Julia presents them with, Victoria refuses to hear him, insisting “I don’t want to know”.


We on the other hand, do want to know, but the film leaves us with many questions. The plot is over-ambitious and convoluted, but despite more holes than a sieve, it miraculously manages to hold enough water to keep us on side. It’s a more accomplished sci-fi than Tron: Legacy, which, while looking good and sounding even better, was largely an empty experience with only a few clumsy attempts at emotional substance. Not much has changed here, but instead of Kosinski’s direction footing the blame, instead at fault is Cruise’s utter lack of chemistry with either woman. At the very least, the film has a memorable, visually rich world, the semantics of which are better defined than those in the director’s first outing.


Oblivion (11)

Dir: Joseph Kosinski;

US sci-fi, 2013,126 mins; 

Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo


Premiered April 11


Playing nationwide