The star shifts his persona, with great results, in the clever sci-fi thriller 'Edge of Tomorrow'
Edge of Tomorrow Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Doug Liman
Screenplay: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, based on the novel All You Need is Kill, by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson, Jonas Armstrong, Franz Drameh and Kick Gurry
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 53 minutes
June 6, 2014
(out of four)
The thing that makes Edge of Tomorrow a great Tom Cruise Movie is that Tom Cruise doesn't actually play the Tom Cruise Role. Well, not at the start, he doesn't. He works his way up to it, and by the end it's the superhuman Tom Cruise we know and love - superhuman in this case because he's actually been given a superhuman (and extraterrestrial) power, and has spent the length of the film learning how to use it. Learning how to become Tom Cruise.
But that's not the guy we see at the beginning. The guy we see is uncertain, and only superficially confident. Almost cowardly (although his cowardice seems to come from an honest place). He stutters when he's taken off guard. He's not the most physically capable guy in the room, nor the most skilled, nor the most prepared. Ever. Not exactly the position in which we're used to seeing Tom Cruise. Which is what makes this such an interesting and strong performance by Cruise (probably his most interesting since going wildly against type in Collateral), and a terrific deployment of his persona by director Doug Liman and his writers, adapting the Japanese novel All You Need is Kill.
Cruise's character, Major William Cage, is the worldwide face of the military's defense against an ongoing alien invasion. But he's not really a soldier. He's a PR man with no field training. He joined the army after his business fell through - his only experience being ROTC classes from high school. He gets by on his charm and likability, which serve him well as he makes the TV news rounds to sell the case for the global strategy of the United Defense Forces. But on the eve of civilization's most important battle against the so-called Mimics, a tête-à-tête with General Brigham (the great Brendan Gleeson) doesn't go exactly as Cage plans, and he finds himself shipped off to the front, demoted to Private with his name and reputation tarnished.
He wakes up at a military base at Heathrow Airport, under the command of the sardonic, enthusiastically hard-assed Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton), who throws Cage into the fire despite the fact that he has no idea how to use the weaponized exoskeleton he's suited up in - or even how to turn the safety off of his weapon. He's essentially a sacrificial lamb - only he happens to get lucky, in an act of desperation killing a Mimic that covers Cage in its blood and bestows upon him the ability to go back in time and repeat the last 24 hours all over again.
For reasons the movie can go into more detail explaining, the Mimics have the ability to reset time, which has been the key to their strategy and the reason why they've been so thoroughly dominating the human effort. But that gift has been quite accidentally transferred to Cage, who hasn't the slightest idea what to do with it. But his resourcefulness - at the very least, he has that - leads him to the true hero of the film, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a renowned super-soldier who, when she comes in contact with Cage, seems to have something of an idea what's going on with him.
Long story short - Rita agrees to train Cage so that he can, presumably, learn from the ongoing mistakes of the military effort and eventually get ahead of the Mimics' strategy and save mankind. Only he has to die - repeatedly - for this to happen. He gets to live this day over and over until he gets it right. He has to find Rita, explain the situation, and get a day's training in, over and over. He has to touch base with the brilliant Dr. Carter (Noah Taylor) over and over. And so, as in many of the video games that have inspired the film's visual and structural aesthetics, he gradually gets better, getting a bit farther each time, learning from his mistakes and re-strategizing for each reset, each new life.
The background details - of the aliens themselves, of the way they operate, of the trick to defeating them, etc. - are all pretty old-hat as far as this kind of science-fiction goes. But Edge of Tomorrow distinguishes itself in the way it plays with the repetitiveness of Cage's scenario, and with Cruise's portrayal of struggle and uncertainty for a character perpetually hampered by a stubborn refusal to see himself as truly capable of the heroism required of him. For Cruise, these are different beats than we typically see for him, and - I say this as a fan of his work - it's rather refreshing to see. He often gets to leverage his cocky alpha male-ness against his movies' comedic undertones, in some cases outright playing into the comedy (the first half of Knight and Day, for example); but here we see him as reluctant as we've ever seen him. He resists the hero role as long as he can. He's sarcastic, defensive and confused. He's constantly searching for excuses to pass on the responsibilities he doesn't want to have in the first place. Edge of Tomorrow is a two-hour journey where we see what it takes to become a Tom Cruise character.
Liman was the perfect choice to take the helm, having proven himself a strong director of action with a wicked sense of humor. The film's levity is one of its strengths - the stakes may be extraordinarily high, but Liman is well aware that the ins and outs of the time-reset scenario and the details of the Mimics themselves are some of the most fun and fertile material, and he's appropriately playful with both. Even as the film keeps resetting, and we keep going back to that same morning at the base, with those same introductions and interactions, Liman keeps it fresh. He shoots each reset from different angles - for one version of a scene, he may focus on Cruise; for the next version of the same scene, he'll laser in on the reactions of another character - and accelerates the pace of his editing (and Cage's rate of death), often in hilarious fashion.
To be honest, while the film's climactic sequences are terrific, the actual ending doesn't appear to make a lot of sense - if any at all - unless we make a whole lot of assumptions about the way the established rules actually work. But strangely, I didn't mind all that much. I suppose it's theoretically defensible, and it has a great final moment; and ultimately, we're dealing with a movie about one man's consciousness re-setting after dying hundreds of times (if not more), so there's some inherent wiggle room. But more than that, by the time that denouement rolled around, Edge of Tomorrow had garnered more than enough goodwill to earn something of a pass. Logical lapse or no, the film remains smart and inventive enough for a half-dozen summer blockbusters.