A visually dazzling but workmanlike sci-fier that turns out too derivative to be the Philip K. Dick mindblower it aims to be, Joseph Kosinski's sophomore effort after the slick Tron: Legacy tantalises the viewer with glimpses of a metaphysical, almost-Kubrickian meditation on identity, memory and loss that end up buried among the action bluster demanded of any contemporary big-budget blockbuster and the requirements of a star vehicle for Tom Cruise in action-hero mode. Yet, for its first half at least, Mr. Kosinski, who developed the original story as a script for a graphic novel, teases out an intriguing mystery set in a post-apocalyptic Earth after the fallout of a brutal but failed alien invasion. An effortless Mr. Cruise stars as Jack Harper, a glorified mechanic in charge of the power installations off the former Jersey shore that are storing energy for mankind's refuge in outer space. Two weeks away from shipping "home" to Titan, a series of unusual events, coupled with strange dreams that may actually be suppressed memories, throws that plan into disarray and hints that not everything is as it seems - including Jack himself.

     What follows is tricky to condense or explain without giving away important plot points, but sci-fi fans will recognize most of them as a smartly assembled recycling of elements from Total Recall, Moon, Independence Day, 2001: A Space Odyssey or Vanilla Sky (there's even a touch of Chris Marker's La Jetée thrown in for good measure). They're given added strength by Mr. Kosinski's visual flair and striking, modernist compositions, which in a way are also one of Oblivion's flaws: the film constantly looks a dream, thanks to lenser Claudio Miranda's effortless blending of live action and visual effects and designer Darren Gilford's outstanding creation of post-apocalyptic New York, but all the care put in the visuals seems to block the director from sandblasting the more egregious plot points. And for all the effort that his well-chosen cast puts into the film - special mention should go to Olga Kurylenko and Andrea Riseborough - there's still much archetype written into the characters, some of which are insufficiently fleshed-out for a story that's so preoccupied with identity. The added need to fit all these idead into the scaffolding of a standard action picture means that Oblivion gradually loses steam until, by the end, nothing remains but a beautiful half-finished building with the odd hint of what could have been; decent enough taken on its own terms, and much better than most of the competition, but frustratingly undercooked.

Cast: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Screenplay: Karl Gajdusek, Michael de Bruyn, from a story by Mr. Kosinski
Cinematography: Claudio Miranda  (colour, widescreen)
Music: Anthony Gonzalez, Joseph Trapanese
Designer: Darren Gilford
Costumes: Marlene Stewart
Editor: Richard Francis-Bruce
Visual effects: Eric Barba, Bjørn Meyer
Producers: Peter Chernin, Mr. Kosinski, Dylan Clark, Barry Levine, Duncan Henderson (Universal Pictures, Monolith Pictures and Chernin Entertainment in association with Relativity Media, Radical Studios, Dentsu and Fuji Television Network)
USA/Japan, 2013, 125 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Alvaláxia 1 (Lisbon), April 4th 2013


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