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‘Edge of Tomorrow:’ Film Review

There was a great article in LA Weekly a couple of weeks ago about how Tom Cruise’s appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s coach a few years back effectively killed his career as a movie star.  One of the first videos to go viral (Youtube had launched literally just a few weeks prior.) and edited within an inch of its life (Cruise never actually jumps up and down on the coach as people often misremember.), the clip made Cruise seem genuinely unhinged to the public, and, suddenly, it became trendy to say you hated Tom Cruise.  That’s sad to me for a lot of reasons, the least of which is, for 25 years or so, Cruise had gone out of his way to work with truly great filmmakers on interesting projects and pushing himself as an artist.  Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Paul Thomas Anderson, Francis Coppola, Brad Bird, Barry Levinson, Brian DePalma, Robert Redford, Steven Spielberg (twice), Sydney Pollack, Neil Jordan, Cameron Crowe (twice), John Woo, and Michael Mann make for an impressive list of collaborators; however, it was Cruise’s willingness to give over 18 months at the height of his earnings potential for the never-ending shoot of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut that gives him a lifetime pass from me.  He also gets bonus points for standing guard over Kubrick’s possibly unfinished cut of the film after the legendary director unexpectedly passed away.

Things have gone kind of haywire since the unfortunate meeting with Oprah’s furniture.  Gone is the Cruise of old who worked with visionaries on roles that were often ensemble pieces.  Now, we have the Cruise of Knight and Day, mediocre actions films made by workman-like filmmakers and aimed at making money in the foreign markets where Cruise is still a major star.  It’s a little sad, really.  After years of turning down lucrative offers to appear in a Top Gun sequel, Cruise has recently agreed to star in it.  It’s going to have something to do with drones, as if this dreadful new season of 24 isn’t proving drones to be a terrible plot device.

So, it’s nice to see Cruise making a bit of a comeback, even though the film in question is an action movie made by a workman-like director (Doug Liman) which will likely make the lion’s share of its money overseas.  The movie works.

Edge of Tomorrow is going to get compared relentlessly to the late, great Harold Ramis’ masterpiece Groundhog Day, because it deals with the similar concept of a man becoming unstuck in time.  It’s not entirely fair, because the film (based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel All You Need Is Kill) actually provides an explanation why Cruise’s character (a military PR man named Bill Cage) keeps reliving the same day.  It’s different from the Ramis picture, because in order to reset the day, Cage must die.

An alien race called mimics has invaded Earth, and nothing humans do seems capable of combating them.  That’s because the aliens have the ability to alter time, so they always know in advance what the human military’s next move is going to be.  Cruise’s Bill Cage is a cowardly PR guy who offends a general (the great Irish actor Brendan Gleeson) and is sent to the front lines with no combat training.  On the battlefield (Literally, they are landing on the beaches of France, clearly meant to evoke D-Day.), Cage manages to kill one of the mimics but comes into contact with its blood.  That blood passes the ability to reset the day on to Cage, who keeps dying in battle again and again.  Eventually, he makes his way to an accomplished soldier named Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt).  Realizing Cage can reset the day, Rita tells him to find her when he wakes up.  It turns out she has had the same experience, but a blood transfusion took the time shifting ability from her.  They can also use Cage’s time-folding ability to train him for combat one day at a time (not unlike Bill Murray learning to play the piano).

Edge of Tomorrow is a fun summer movie, something that seems increasingly rare in the summer movie season.  We now live in the world of Nolan where every blockbuster has to be dour, dark, brooding, humorless, and consistently no fun at all.  Edge of Tomorrow feels very much like a blast from the past, like it could have been made in the 1980s.

I have no idea how closely it follows the source novel, but the script by frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie and brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth is both smart and clever.  The film is expertly structured and plotted and is very ingenious in the way it uses the audience having the foreknowledge that Cruise’s character has.  As in Groundhog Day, it’s fun to watch this character learn his environment and then change his behavior to alter the outcome.

I’ve always said there will never be a good film made from a video game for one huge reason.  The fun of gaming comes from being the main character in a big action movie and controlling the events of it.  Games are fun but watching somebody else play isn’t nearly as much fun, and that’s what happens to the audience when a game gets turned into a movie.  The interesting thing about Edge of Tomorrow is that while the movie isn’t based on a game, it does replicate the gaming experience, as the Cruise character dies and then comes back with the information he needs to move deeper into the story.  The more the film goes on, the more you don’t want to see the poor guy go all the way back to the beginning and start over again.

I’ve always liked Tom Cruise as an actor, though I know many don’t.  He’s got great star charisma and has always brought a tangible intensity to his roles.  That’s one reason why he’s sometimes struggles to be an effective romantic lead.  This seems tailor made form him.  Blunt is fine as the tough-as-nails soldier.  It’s nice that we are decades into a pop culture in which Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, and Buffy Summers have paved the way for female action heroes to just be the norm and not the exception.  The screening I saw was in 3D, and I would recommend a 2D screening.  The post-conversion offers nothing to the proceedings and, at times, looked pretty awful.

Sorry to keep going back to the Groundhog Day comparisons, but one of the things that makes that film a classic is its depth.  Groundhog Day is a rich, intelligent film with a lot to say about life.  I don’t think Edge of Tomorrow has any such pretenses.  This isn’t a movie with a lot on its mind other than being a smart action film.  Sometimes, that’s enough.  Tom Cruise is 51 now, and I’d love to see him settle into his age and become more of a character actor.  He’s proven he can do that; however, if he wants to make action films that will play well overseas, Edge of Tomorrow isn’t a bad place to be.