Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Edge Of Tomorrow

Directed by: Doug Liman

Produced by: Erwin Stoff
Tom Lassally
Jeffrey Silver
Gregory Jacobs
Jason Hoffs

Screenplay by: Christopher McQuarrie
Jez Butterworth
John-Henry Butterworth

Based on: All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

Starring: Tom Cruise
Emily Blunt
Bill Paxton
Brendan Gleeson

Music by: Christophe Beck

Cinematography by: Dion Beebe

Editing by: James Herbert
Laura Jennings

Studios(s): Village Roadshow Pictures
RatPac-Dune Entertainment
3 Arts Entertainment
Viz Productions

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Release date(s): May 30, 2014 (United Kingdom)
June 6, 2014 (United States)

Running time: 113 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $178 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $351, 054, 547

Alright then, five long, hard weeks of the first leg of EventSec's festival circuit have paid off, and now I have (I think anyway) some well deserved time off to relax and put my feet up. It has been exhaustive, sure, and the Magical Mystery Tour well resume in August, but it'll be nice to say that I can actually spend the weekend in my own bed (that sounds like a euphemism, but trust me it ain't. I listen and embrace the feelings of way too many songs from the 1980's about isolation and loneliness to have been sleeping around!). Anywho, in that context, I shall be getting some reviewing done, with this being my last review for the month of June, which will be followed by a belated review of the month, and then I shall commence my reviews for July with one for Tammy, the new Melissa McCarthy vehicle. So, for all the latest and greatest regarding the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is Edge Of Tomorrow, released back at the start of June, a big-budget science-fiction film starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. Based on the Japanese light novel (young-adult) All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, published in 2004, the film adaptation has been in development by Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow since 2009, with a lot of hirings and firings, fights and rewrites before principle photography began in June 2012. It has since been released to critical acclaim, has widely been cited as an exciting, thought-provoking and thematically dense action film (it's Cruise's highest-rated original work on Rotten Tomatoes' Tomatometer since 2002's Minority Report), but it could be argued that the film has under-performed at the box-office, having made $350 million off of it's huge $178 million budget. Set in the midst of a near-future war between humanity and an invading alien race known as Mimics, who have taken over continental Europe, Cruise stars as Major William Cage, a Public Affairs officer in the United States army, who gets cold feet when United Defense Forces General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) orders him to cover combat in an offensive known as Operation Downfall landing on the beaches of France. After threatening portray the General unfavourably, he wakes up in handcuffs at a base at Heathrow Airport, where he is confronted by Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton), who has received a letter from Brigham stating that Cage is a Private and deserter who will attempt to impersonate an officer. Cage is assigned J Squad, a squad of rejects, and in the landing in France, as part of the first wave, Cage uses a Claymore to destroy a large 'Alpha' Mimic, and when he destroys it, it's blood douses him, and he wakes up in Heathrow again, gradually realising that every time he dies, he must repeat the same day over and over again. In one of these time loops he saves legendary soldier Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), known as the 'Full Metal Bitch' and 'Angel Of Verdun,' who tells him to come find her when he "wakes up" again, so he can train under her, for she recognises that what's happening to him is the key to ending the war with the Mimics. That sounds long-winded, but hey, this is words, not moving pictures, so I have to make due with what I've got in this medium. Shall we dance?

To start with the good, I'll bring up the performances of the principals involved in the film. Tom Cruise has in the 2000s made some interesting choices for films that could do with a lend of his star power. As such, we've seen films as diverse as Minority Report, Collateral, Valkyrie, Jack Reacher and Oblivion, movies which are all the better for his having been in it. The case is the same here, as we see Cruise display the fullness of his range. He begins the film as, for all intents and purposes, a real scoundrel, using his natural charisma to dial up his comedic side, delivering an awkward comedic touch that is not dissimilar to the brand of humour that Ricky Gervais might bring to the table. As such, it makes Cage's transition into a battle-hardened 'veteran' all the more emphatic. We know Cruise can do characters with true grit, but here it helps to even to lend his Cage a certain poignancy in later scenes in the film. Emily Blunt, not the natural choice perhaps given her previous roles, is also in fine form as Rita Vrataski. A consummate badass who provides a good foil to Cage's initial douchebaggery, Blunt, who has also got into great physical shape for the part, is never less than credible in the part. Also, I know a lot has been made in the press about this (better articles have been written on it than I could manage!), but Blunt's Vrataski gives Edge Of Tomorrow a fresh feminist slant which, I would argue, makes the film more accessible from an audience's standpoint, especially in the male-driven militarism and science-fiction and action genres. Strong in supporting performances also are Brendan Gleeson and especially Bill Paxton. I haven't seen him in a big movie in a while, but Paxton is always a welcome presence onscreen in my books, and his Master Sergeant Farell provides often humorous interludes in the midst of all the wanton chaos going on throughout the film. Right down to quizzical expressions of confusion, Paxton has this schtick nailed down. Also, there's a lot more to Edge Of Tomorrow than just the performances, so get ready, because you're about to hear a good spiel here. As I mentioned in my preemptory paragraph, the film has a huge $178 million budget, but in fairness to the filmmakers, not only is it up there onscreen, but there is also a huge display of innovation and creativity involved. Last year, we saw Matt Damon don an exoskeleton in Elysium, and if anything the work from a design standpoint in Edge Of Tomorrow has exceeded that of the previous film. Throughout the history of cinema, stories are abound of how troublesome puppets and props have been. Just take a look at anything anyone has to say about 'Bruce' the Shark in Jaws, which Steven Spielberg himself labelled a "Great White Turd" regarding it's difficulty to work with. However, in Edge Of Tomorrow, the production designer Oliver Scholl, lead builder Pierre Bohanna, costume designer Kate Hawley and all their various teams have truly reached a standard of excellence. The physical fluidity of movement in these suits is a marvel to behold in and of itself, but that we're getting to see big battles in numbers en masse is another thing altogether. For this also the stunt team and visual effects deserve to be credited. In the 1980s, one of the things you took away from a great action movie were the great stunts that came with them, whereas today most action movies have stunts so similar to each other that they cease to be anything but anonymous. In my memory, despite having been hammered with an insane amount of work hours lately, I can take whole parts of the movie and replay them in my head. Aesthetically, the thing's hard, heavy and clunky, but also very violent in it's own way, the beach landing playing out like a 12A Saving Private Ryan at times. This is also due in part down to the cinematography and the editing at play here. Dion Beebe's digital photography is really something. When the movie gets really hard and heavy, Beebe's adept hand throws us into the proverbial deep end, and as such ranks this up there as among the most intense of summer blockbuster/action movies I've seen in a while. Beebe's made his name with digital work on films such as Collateral, but this was so nerve-wracking at times it reminded me of the late Tim Hetherington's documentary work in the likes of Restrepo. Also, the film's tagline is 'Live. Die. Repeat.' As such, you'd like to think it would be able to keep up to the task without getting boring. Earlier on I mentioned the fluidity of movement in the battle suits, believe me, the fluidity of movement in the film's montage is another of it's many marvels. Ingenuity is at play here, with James Herbert and Laura Jennings constantly playing around with our expectations, keeping the film fresh while also adhering to the central concept. The closest thing that reminds this reminds of tonally is Contra, the classic side-scrolling arcade video-game series, all of which are notoriously hard to beat, and I can say that this is the closest I've had to watching a film that was able to replicate what it feels like to play a video game. Herbert and Jennings' work is splendid from a technical standpoint, but also aesthetically it helps to serve up a dish with a particularly unique flavour and feeling. Working in unison with the editing is the intelligence with which the screenwriters have implemented the use of the film's central premise. Going in, you might think, as I did, that this could get very repetitive very quickly, but the screenwriters, smart enough to realise this, did their best to keep us on our toes. Conversations and dialogues are replayed, with Cruise getting ever more tired, repeating bits and pieces to the other characters before they have ever said it themselves, surprising lapses in concentration that lead to a blackly humorous death for the main characters, I didn't find myself ever getting overly bored with it. Also, in a score that was originally meant to be composed by Ramin Djawadi, Christophe Beck exceeds himself and delivers what might well be his strongest score to date. Perhaps it's the comedy genre work that he has to do that is holding him down, after all, his work on last year's Frozen was good too, because he is put to the test here and puts up a grand, glorious score that ranks up there with the best of them. Combining tribal beats, strings and industrial pulses heavily distorted by synthesisers, it's a score that's highly appropriate for the chaotic war-torn atmosphere of the film. There's nothing nice and pretty about it, and that's the way it's meant to be. Finally, although he has never been cited previously as an auteur by any stretch, this is a terrific bit of directorial work from Doug Liman. Beginning his film career with comedies such as Swingers and Go, he directed the first film in the Bourne franchise, though if anything Paul Greengrass, Matt Damon and Tony Gilroy have always got more credit for establishing that series more than Liman. After 2005's Mr. And Mrs. Smith (most famously for kickstarting the now well-established Bradgelina), Liman hasn't had any major gigs (2008's Jumper was critically derided, while 2010's Fair Game failed to make a dent in the box-office). However, much as this is a team effort, let it not be disputed that Liman has done a superb job at keeping just about everything in control here. With all the fragile elements involved in Edge Of Tomorrow, the results could have been as chaotic in the worst way possible as the war-torn atmosphere portrayed in the film. This is an exercise in real tact and I hope that Liman gets the acknowledgement he deserves for getting this film to be as good as it is.

Now, as you can tell, I have really gushed over this movie, and I feel with good reason. Alongside Pacific Rim and The Dark Knight Rises, Edge Of Tomorrow is quite easily among the most engaging and entertaining summer blockbusters of the past few years. Does that mean it's perfect? Unfortunately no, and that does have to be addressed. The thing that I do find troublesome about Edge Of Tomorrow, and which does, I must say, deny it from being a masterpiece, are element of the screenplay. Although it is by no means a movie with an ensemble cast, the characters of J Squad are meant to be a sympathetic band of rejects, and yet I felt nothing anytime some nasty fate befell one of it's members. I felt a real, genuine sense of loss, even for the 'villains' anytime they met their demise in Oliver Stone's Platoon, a film where there exists a key human element, and their absence is truly felt, but here, you don't particularly care either way. Also, while it for the most remains consistently inventive, I feel that Chris McQuarrie and the Butterworth's bag of tricks starts to run empty at different parts in the third act, noticeably creating a bit of lag in an otherwise wholly engaging picture. 

These things being said, I will stand by what I have said in that despite some of these troublesome elements in the screenplay this is one of the most entertaining and engaging summer blockbusters of the past few years. Edge Of Tomorrow does so many things right, with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt giving terrific performances, Bill Paxton and Brendan Gleeson rounding out the pack, and from a design standpoint the mise-en-scene is extraordinary, with the costume, production design and builders all doing an amazing job on the exoskeleton. The stunt team and visual effects artists have reached a high standard, getting across appropriately the wanton destruction and chaos of war. Dion Beebe's superb digital cinematography, the expert montage with the editing, the inventive use of the film's central concept by the writers, Christophe Beck's score and Doug Liman's tactful, controlled direction, all this makes for a great movie. Edge Of Tomorrow might not be a masterpiece, but with filmmaking this good, it ain't too far off it!

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.6/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Too sweet (You can thank Kevin Nash for that one!)

No comments: