After X-Men: Days of Future Past, Edge of Tomorrow is the second major Summer tentpole to play with the paradoxes of time travel - in this case applying the Groundhog Day recipe of a man trapped in an infinite loop to a science-fiction alien-invasion tale out of Independence Day. The kicker in Doug Liman's film is that the man being buffeted by the ironies of having to repeat a day ad eternum is a soldier on the front line of the final assault on the invading aliens - the futuristic equivalent of the WWII "D-day" landings on the French shores. Not just any soldier, but the Army PR man who "sold" the assault to the unsuspecting public, unwillingly demoted to rank private and forced onto the "tip of the spear". And, as fate would have it, it's this untrained, untested, unwilling fighter that turns out to hold the key to end the conflict once and for all...
Unless he is played by Tom Cruise, in which case the entire concept of a man learning how to sacrifice himself for the greater good goes entirely down the drain. Mr. Cruise is not known, and ever since his major breakthrough nearly 30 years ago in Top Gun has not been known, for his "vulnerable" characters. And even if his all-American heroic image gets rumpled and dragged in the dirt in the first 20 minutes of Edge of Tomorrow (courtesy of a gleefully sadistic master sergeant played with gusto by Bill Paxton), it doesn't take too long for "normality" to resume its course, as the former advertising executive becomes a consummate one-man fighting machine thanks to the temporal anomaly he's found himself in.
This turns Edge of Tomorrow in one of those cases of a film that wouldn't have been green-lighted without a star of Mr. Cruise's calibre, but that buckles severely under the strain of a cinematic persona that goes against its grain. It's not the first time this happens to the actor - Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds could have been a masterpiece with an entirely different star, since it was hellishly difficult accepting Mr. Cruise as a blue-collar deadbeat dad who finds himself on the run from the invading aliens. Edge of Tomorrow isn't as serious a case; director Doug Liman, known for kickstarting the Bourne franchise (but whose Bourne Identity was the least interesting in the series), is not Mr. Spielberg, and directs with a functional but ultimately anonymous hand. But still, despite its fairly derivative recycling of earlier, better films, it turns out to be a smartly intriguing premise wasted on a vehicle for a star that's clearly wrong for the part. This is made all the worse by the presence of British actress Emily Blunt opposite Mr. Cruise, since she hits the exact spot of vulnerability, steeliness and relatability to an audience that was never the forte of a star seemingly more and more past his prime.
EDGE OF TOMORROW
USA, Australia 2014
Cast Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson
Director Doug Liman; screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth; based on the novel by Hiroshi Sakuzaka, All You Need Is Kill; cinematography Dion Beebe (colour, widescreen); composer Christophe Beck; designer Oliver Scholl; costumes Kate Hawley; editors James Herbert and Laura Jennings; effects supervisor Nick Davis; producers Erwin Stoff, Tom Lassally, Jeffrey Silver, Gregory Jacobs and Jason Hoffs; production companies Warner Bros. Pictures and 3 Arts Entertainment in association with Village Roadshow Pictures, Ratpac-Dune Entertainment and Viz Productions
Screened May 26th 2014 (distributor press screening, NOS Colombo IMAX, Lisbon)