Remember When . . .
By Carl Kozlowski
Trance and Oblivion offer action-packed fun and jaw-dropping plot twists
It’s rare these days to find a film that commands a viewer’s total attention. What’s even rarer is when two such films open on the same weekend, as do director Danny Boyle’s Trance and Tom Cruise’s Oblivion.
In Trance, Boyle returns to the ruthless and head-spinning crime film terrain of his 1994 debut, Shallow Grave, and his 1996 classic, Trainspotting. At first, it seems as if the story is being seen through the eyes of Simon (James MacAvoy), a high-class art auctioneer who guides the audience through the process of protecting classic paintings from surprise robberies.
And, just like that, an elaborate heist is set into motion, with every possible angle of protection that Simon has just shown us violated in a surprising set-piece of action and suspense. The first of many twists reveals that Simon is actually the inside man for the gang of thieves, but due to a blow to the head in the commotion that follows, he has no memory of where the painting—Goya’s Witches in the Air, worth $27 million in the film—went.
Simon’s gang tries to torture the answer out of him, but the thugs soon realize that he really can’t remember. So he’s told to see a hypnotherapist to help him access his memories. He selects Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), who catches on immediately to the fact that he’s in deep trouble, and soon Boyle and his screenwriters, Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, are tossing out one plot twist after another to weave a tale that incorporates tense action, excellent acting, hot sex and shocking revelations to create what will likely be one of the best films of the year.
The lead trio of McAvoy, Dawson and Vincent Cassel as Franck, the heist’s seemingly cold-blooded leader with plenty of his own secrets, are all outstanding, with Dawson (Rent, Sin City) offering yet another performance that demonstrates she is one of the most underrated actresses in Hollywood. On just about every level, Trance mesmerizes.
Love him or hate him for his bizarre personal life, there’s probably no harder-working movie star than Tom Cruise. He not only headlines and does the vast majority of his own incredibly dangerous stunts, but also produces his films, ensuring that they are visually impeccable, even if they occasionally stumble at the story level.
Cruise nearly outdoes himself with Oblivion, in which he plays Jack, who’s teamed with a woman named Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), the last two people protecting Earth’s resources who are being transferred to Jupiter’s largest moon, Titan. That is where the rest of the human race has restarted civilization after destroying the planet with a worldwide barrage of nuclear missiles 60 years before in a desperate move to avoid domination by alien invaders called Scavengers.
In other words, mankind won the war against alien predators but lost its home in the process. There are a small number of the Scavengers left trying to destroy the massive purification plants that make what’s left of Earth’s resources safe for human consumption.
Vast swaths of Earth are hopelessly irradiated by now, yet, as Jack flies out on patrol against the Scavengers each day, he secretly stops at a safe area deep in a verdant canyon where he has built himself a cabin, generates electricity, set up a basketball hoop and tries to live life the way it used to be before the war—a way of life he learned about it in history books. He also keeps having visions and nightmares in which he was actually on Earth decades before, proposing marriage to a now-mysterious woman—a woman named Julia (Olga Kurlyenko), who suddenly crashes to Earth via a pod in the desolate present.
The question of who the woman is and how her arrival affects his work and romantic partner Victoria sets off a series of inventive plot twists and impressive action scenes. Yet, while Oblivion will leave viewers surprised all the way to the end, it is even more impressive for the emotions that it stirs.
As Jack pines for an Earth he never knew yet doesn’t want to leave, Cruise digs deep to deliver one of the most passionate and touching performances of his career. Coming off the uneven flop Jack Reacher, it’s great to see him back on top of his game. But more than that, at a time in which our world really does seem to be coming apart at the seams, Oblivion—filmed in Iceland—is a bracing reminder to love, cherish and protect what we have here on earth.