Friday, April 26, 2013
It was tough this last week, avoiding several of the posts that sites I visit had on this film. I always want my first experiences with a movie to be as fresh as possible, and if I get a spoiler, or an opinion in my head too earlier, I'm afraid I will respond to the movie with someone else bias instead of my own. I could not stay entirely uninformed and still be on line, so I was aware that most of the other bloggers I follow felt it was a solid film, but all of them seemed to think it was derivative. Having seen the movie for myself, I can say that there are touches of other films, but I don't think they have much to do with the story. This felt pretty fresh to me and original enough to have me anticipating revelations without being exactly sure which way they were going to go.
Folks like me enjoy dropping names and gaining some cache from our familiarity with other films. You get to show off a little when you can say, "That's stolen from [fill in obscure film title here]. " In reality, the films being cited don't always have to be obscure to give the impression that we know what we are talking about. If the referent is well known, just make sure that the analogy is a fresh one and it will still register with others. I can be as cynical as the next person but usually I prefer the role of sentimentalist. If a story moves me, or my eyes are filled with wonder, that is usually good enough for me. This movie succeeded at doing both of these things and that is why I can give it my recommendation. The plot twist does not have to be a blind side "Twilight Zone" original, it simply needs to make the story work and the characters matter more to me. The three main characters in this film, play out a series of what may seem inevitable outcomes, but there were some earned emotions along the way.
Victoria, played by Andrea Risebourgh, is a character that in the end is much more complicated than we are originally lead to believe. The set up of the story seems to imply a lack of depth on her part and the willingness to accept orders suggests she is merely a convenience for the plot. I thought there was a solid emotional journey and that the feeling of betrayal that sends this story in it's final direction was completely understandable from the perspective of the Victoria we meet. Her tears are not the manufactured emotions of programmed character, but rather a wounded soul who is in over her head. Tom Cruise manages to make his switch in loyalties reflect a dilemma rather than a mere awakening from a delusion. When he has to confront the same emotion after a stunning plot point, he sells it as a truly painful moment despite his deepest emotions being awakened. In the end, Victoria does not turn out to be the love interest, but she is not a disposable character at all, and if we had to put our imaginations to it, we would see that she is more deeply effected than Jack is. This is the second feature in a row that Cruise plays a character named Jack, and it seems to suit him. He is subdued in the part but effective as a protagonist. There are two or three moments when his acting has to sell what might be an otherwise ridiculous story line. He once again is very reliable, and the star casting is undoubtedly one of the reasons for the movies success.
This is a science fiction film, so there are always going to be elements of the story that seem unrealistic. If there are plot holes, they don't intrude enough on my first viewing to take away form the suspense of the story. I like the twist and it seems completely real given the context we have been placed in. There may be some big picture questions, but when you are following the characters, those questions fade to the background. It helps that we are distracted by some spectacular design work for the world of the future. The devastated planet and the high tech living quarters and tools are wonderfully realized. Jacks vehicles and weapons are detailed just enough to make them practical while still having the cool sci fi look that I always enjoyed as a kid. The living platform that Jack and Victoria occupy, would make anyone on the West Side, jealous of their design and location. The concept for the swimming pool will almost certainly be on some billionaires feature list in their next house.
We are looking at a war film that begins by telling us that the war is over. Nothing is that straightforward however in a science fiction film. Complications arise and the personalities of the characters drive the ability of the plot to develop. We learn that Jack is better at his job than he needs to be, and that his job is not enough for him. The crack in the facade escalates on two paths; his life with Victoria and the bigger issue of the film, the future of humanity. There are some nice revelations that tell us the real story. Some of them are contained in flashbacks, some are revealed in action and then, when we need it the most, some are shared through the sonorous tones of the great Morgan Freeman. He has a relatively small part but it adds to the credibility of the story to have his character exist at all. This was a very entertaining film, that told a story that worked for me and fit the forms of a good science fiction adventure. What elevated it for me a little was the level of conflicted emotions I felt for the characters of Jack and Victoria. The story finishes with a satisfying plot turn which resolves on aspect of the tale, and leaves the personal aspects settled on the surface but maybe frustratingly so.