By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
Just as Tom Cruise struggles through the most extended patch of bad PR and audience iffiness of his career, he goes and makes a couple of very good movies.
Some of his fans have jumped ship (after he jumped on Oprah’s couch, and other shenanigans), and some have aged out of the opening-weekend movie-going population. Thus Cruise’s December release, “Jack Reacher,” underperformed at the box office, yet it’s a sharp, well-written action picture.
Now comes “Oblivion,” a big-reach science fiction epic. Wouldn’t you know it: The film is pensive and deeply felt, and contains one of Cruise’s best performances.
The Earth hangs on, barely, in the aftermath of a great war. Much of the planet has been wrecked, and even though the Earthlings “won” the war, they continue to do battle with a surviving band of extraterrestrial agents.
Two forlorn humans run a kind of security station, supervising the removal of water from the planet in anticipation of a great exodus to a moon off Saturn. The Earth itself has been rendered mostly uninhabitable. These two receive orders from a large space station where the rest of the human survivors await transport.
Cruise and British actress Andrea Riseborough play the security team, and they are romantically involved, although he is bothered by dreams of another woman. He doesn’t know who this other woman might be, or anything else about the past, because everybody’s memories have been wiped out.
The film is full of fantastic flying vehicles and futuristic gizmos. The post-apocalyptic world is a real eyeful (photographed by “Life of Pi” Oscar-winner Claudio Miranda), exactly the kind of spectacle you want to see if you plunk down cash for this kind of movie.
It’s directed by Joseph Kosinski, who helmed the underwhelming “Tron: Legacy.” Kosinski obviously has the digital chops to create this kind of world, but what surprises about “Oblivion” is the intensity of its hero’s journey; the movie is dutiful (and sometimes a kick) about including space-helicopter chases and dogfights with flying pods, but its focus remains in the melancholy arena of loss and betrayal and serious confusion.
The film has Morgan Freeman and “To the Wonder” star Olga Kurylenko in the cast, in roles that should remain vague for now. But “Oblivion” is a movie-star vehicle, and Tom Cruise carries the film in a very strong, typically intense performance.
The character has the usual Tom Cruise cockiness in the early reels, only to be systematically walloped by the plot’s twists and turns, a disillusioning process that Cruise tracks well.
If you’re jaundiced about Cruise because of his offscreen rants, fine, and if you think he’s a bad actor, fine. But this project calls for a star presence, and Cruise delivers that and then some, even if he takes his shirt off too many times.
“Oblivion” (3 stars)
A very strong performance by Tom Cruise anchors this spectacular sci-fi epic, which looks at a post-apocalyptic world and the human stragglers still hanging about. Director Joseph Kosinski delivers the expected chases and battles, but the movie never loses the melancholy undertone that surrounds the confused main character.
Rated: PG-13 for violence, language.
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marsyville, Olympic, Stanwood, Pacific Place, Sundance, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Blue Fox, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor.