Oblivion ★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

In Tron: Legacy, Joseph Kosinski made the best of a bad script through careful framing (like his sort-of [?] mentor David Fincher). The eye tires of IMAX after more than 45 minutes or so, so he used the format for only one major action sequence; otherwise, he trotted it out during the worst scenes to give unessential background room for the eye to roam over, giving the ear a welcome respite. At its most over-the-top, it was brutalist overstimulation, calibrated for IMAX 3D and unimaginable in anything less.

Oblivion has Tom Cruise (however briefly) reciting Thomas Babington Macaulay and a plot revolving around drones that indiscriminately kill innocent civilians (!). Such flashes of eccentricity aside, it's heavily/predictably indebted to the movies it overtly quotes (primarily The Matrix; HAL-9000's red eye is blown up to gigantic, inverted-pyramid size, but the film's got little to do with 2001 aesthetically or thematically). This is one of many films which use a great deal of CGI to extol the virtues of retreating to nature, seemingly without irony. The scenes of Cruise in rural retreat — a normal man, chilling by the lake with Led Zeppelin on vinyl — are pretty dismal.

Kosinski seems to have very little interest in people or locations (though, considering he originated the story as a graphic novel, I'm disappointingly sure he thinks he's written something with actual ideas; it's actually dumber than Mission To Mars). Scenes are composed two color tones at a time. When Cruise is interrogated by Morgan Freeman, the latter's orange cigar end in foreground is echoed by fuzzily unfocused orange light on one side. After a cut the composition re-arranges, with the orange cigar light in Freeman's mouth between white-suited Cruise reflected on either side in the man's sunglass shades. Another grey-green composition inside a space station/whatever set has the two colors as liquids sitting in containers by a sink, foregrounded as keynotes for the entire composition.

If instantly recognizable visuals and spatial intelligence were all it took to make an auteur, Kosinski might already be Fincher (whom K. obviously adores and has studied closely: look at how Andrea Riseborough's close-up framing at her command center shifts an inch or so from shot to shot, just enough difference to keep your eye subliminally engaged without drawing attention to the change or signifying anything of import, just like Fincher obsessively filming every plant sample on the wall in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo from microscopically different angles for the same reason). In total, there must be Peggy Noonan's "thousand points of light" scattered throughout. Action and the camera both proceed along crisp diagonal movements, with Kosinski embracing overtly CGI landscapes in all their plasticity rather than trying to make them stand in for the real thing.

Unfortunately, this is a dumb movie that can only get so far on visual steam. (For once, IMAX and 3D would be desirable, since Kosinski thrives on overstimulation.) I'm not ready to get all agitated/apologist about the director whose name I've overused already, but I think the dude's got a good eye that could be used for higher purposes. I'm not sure he will, but there are worse things than a former architect who wants to meticulously blueprint new CGI landscapes in logical ways under sub-par plot circumstances. Someone force him to direct a good script at gunpoint.

Some more on Tom Cruise here.