But, wait, I hate Tom Cruise!
First of all, you shouldn't hate the guy. Beyond the lunatic antics on talk shows, there's not a performer out there who seems more committed to doing whatever it takes to give wide audiences a fun experience at the cinema. As a film nerd I can applaud his work with Kubrick in "Eyes Wide Shut," but at the same time I can celebrate his more visceral thrills brought out via a slew of "Mission Impossible" films, his fighter-jock performance in "Top Gun," or even his take last year in the pretty if pretty silly "Oblivion."
There's a delightfully irony-free way that he plunges into these films, a kind of zealous commitment; he cranks it to 11 when things turn bad. When he runs, you feel him running, his outstretched fingers carving the air like razor blades, his cries to action piercing through the myriad explosions. We have plenty of guys who can wink at the audience, letting us know that they're in a make-believe environment. Yet with Cruise there's an almost old-fashioned, balls-to-the-wall portrayal that's free from any snark.
OK, fine. But is this all 'splosions, all the time?
Sure, the film isn't quite (the stunning) "Looper," with its twists and turns and toying with time travel, but "Edge of Tomorrow" is still a pretty exquisitely constructed tale. Based on a Japanese book titled "All You Need Is Kill" (a title that the studio felt was a bit too brutal for American audiences), it's the tale of a soldier co-opted to fight a bunch of alien invaders, only to find himself killed quite quickly after the beach invasion. Waking up again hours before he was to set off, he finds himself in a time-loop, forced to relive his last moments over and over again until he gets it right.
Sounds like a video game, or "Groundhog Day."
Well, yeah, it is. There's plenty of video-gamey stuff about the plot, but that's in no way a detraction from the storytelling. In fact, the film is quite canny about how it deals with this repetition. Furthermore, Cruise himself does a remarkable job at attenuating his performance through the various cycles, developing a callousness as the story creeps forward with each iteration. Like "Groundhog Day," there's more going on here than just the chrono-shtick. The repetition allows one to build character at the same time as advancing plot, making for a more thorough and rich storyline.
So, is this just an all-boys club?
Perhaps the most kick-ass character in the film is played by Emily Blunt (a veteran, it should be noted, of that "Looper" flick we talked about before). She's come a long way since "The Devil Wears Prada," and has developed into an actress very much at home within the fantastical. Her physicality in this film is a nice match for Cruise's, and it never feels like parody or simple tokenism the way that it often does in films of this genre. While not as iconic, obviously, I think that Sigourney Weaver's Ripley would get along with Blunt's Rita Vrataski just fine.
Other than Blunt, we get a pretty decent ensemble. Like Blunt's "Looper" echo, Bill Paxton's appearance is reminiscent of his role in James Cameron's "Aliens." The hard-nosed Master Sergeant becomes one of the main human obstacles for Cruise, and it's fun to see how this dynamic changes as the storyline loops on itself.
Brendan Gleeson plays General Brigham, and he last worked with Cruise on the Irish Romance "Far and Away," so it's hard to see just what connection one would like to draw between those two projects. We also get a bunch of guys named "Griff" and "Kuntz," hard-sounding names for a bunch of Joes that are led to the slaughter.
Any other stories that the film rips off?
Well, of course, as any good film should. "Starship Troopers" seems like a reference, if only for the way these "mimic" aliens swarm around. The landing is evocative of the D-Day landing (the film's release is actually tied to the 70th anniversary of "Operation Overlord"), so comparisons to "Saving Private Ryan" are pretty apt. There's even a "Children of Men" vibe to the final scenes, but that might be stretching it a bit too far.
At any rate, director Doug Liman continues to show some great stuff here, drawing upon what has come before, while very much making it its own thing.
Who is this Liman fellow?
Liman got his start doing a couple quirky, indie films like the bros-in-Vegas dramedy "Swingers" or the flashback-filled "Go." He's done a bunch of passable action flicks like "Jumper" and "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," and launched the "Bourne" franchise (and changed the Bond-myth for the foreseeable future) with "The Bourne Identity."
To Liman's credit, the film never feels showy, never lingering on a particular set piece or cleverly constructed visual. The pace is kinetic, sure, but it never feels harried. Yes, there's some handheld stuff to provide some visceral action, but it never devolves into nausea cam. Most importantly, for a film that does a whole bunch of hopping around in time, it's thoroughly coherent, never losing sight of where it needs to be, and providing subtle visual clues via consistent angles or performance quirks that immediately situate the viewer.
So, this sounds pretty good...
I think it's much better than pretty good. Cruise hasn't been in a film this effective in years, and for that alone it's to be celebrated. Once again, Cruise seems the last of a breed, a guy still committed to these original sci-fi stories that push a bit at the boundaries of modern spectacle filmmaking. In a summer filled with guys in tights drawn from 10-cent comic books, it's nice to see these original stories still get made. Given the almost $200 million budget and half that again spent on marketing, you need someone with the star luminosity of Cruise to crank out a film of this nature these days. Given all that, however, they still need to pull it off, and I'm very pleased to see the filmmakers have done just that.
With a smart, effective adaptation by "Usual Suspects" scribe Christopher McQuarrie along with Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (the guys that wrote the Valerie Plame biopic "Fair Game"), a great cast, lovely visuals and strong direction, there's a lot to love about "Edge of Tomorrow." For all those that complain they don't make them like they used to, I recommend you get to the biggest screen you can find, buy copious amounts of popcorn, and enjoy this slice of summer movie-going fun.
"Edge of Tomorrow" is now playing in theatres.