Friday, June 6, 2014

MOVIE REVIEW Edge Of Tomorrow
Saving Private Cage, Reborn On The 4th Of July

Tom Cruise as Private William Cage in Doug Liman's sci-fi drama "Edge Of Tomorrow".
  Warner Brothers

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, June 6, 2014

Tom Cruise does a great impression of a cartoon character in Doug Liman's tense and rugged "Edge Of Tomorrow" as William Cage, a P.R. military man who's never seen combat.  Soon Cage is thrust into the down-and-dirty as a Lord Of War, whacked over and over again like a piñata, a mobster's swimming fish or Daffy Duck by commander-warrior Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) as she trains Cage to be battle-ready for alien invaders into Europe that Vrataski calls Mimics, which look like giant metallic squid. 

Vrataski receives sexist comments from male subordinates.  Such sentiments are mostly seen, on towering billboards, and reinforced in the viewer's mind, subtly and blatantly.  Vrataski as a character is given ambivalent treatment by the filmmakers as part-steely warrior, part sexual possibility (in a suggestive initial full-body pose) and part-awkward amorous presence, with an impulsive gesture sending her and the film off-kilter for a nanosecond. 

"Edge Of Tomorrow" trades Vrataski's expertise and vast know-how for a golden boy novice who acquires answers to things he's wet behind the ears on.  It's perplexing, though unsurprising, that Cage, as the film's protagonist, flies before he can crawl in hair-raising guerrilla times, to save the universe and Vrataski, who suddenly possesses less acumen than Cage.  Chosen one!  He's seen this movie before (so have we), many times, which allows him to acquire vast knowledge about the Mimic war and the fates it produces.  The knowledge is often used to comedic effect.  Cage starts to talk to fellow troops as if he's in a Howard Hawks film while they are acting in a Terrence Malick movie. 

It's funny, more so to see Mr. Cruise using psychological ballet in wartime preparation over his testosterone-jacked male marauders.  The joke is that Cage doesn't belong, that he's selling war instead of fighting it.  What does he know about war?  Plenty, it turns out.  He reconstructs war and deconstructs it.  The film sends out some smart subtext about the distance of war and its packaging.  Generals are far from sight.  Public relations men like Cage are ironically in the thick of it.  If Cage can sell a war, why can't he un-sell it?  He does, pirouetting from hawk to dove in about an hour, all the while mentally fighting the war while being physically molded into a killer in order to stop it.  Killing to kill a collective killer mentality in humans.  The Mimics could be us.  This anti-war message in "Edge Of Tomorrow" isn't a thing of beauty but it works.

Cage is a dead man walking over and over again and must stay iced to win a quixotic world war.  There's no explanation for the extra-terrestrial incursion on Earth, only perhaps to restore sanity to it.  Based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka's book All You Need Is Kill and written by Chris McQuarrie ("Jack Reacher") and Butterworth brothers Jez & John-Henry, "Edge Of Tomorrow" is appealing yet sometimes bewildering.  It is intelligent and a little insane, and its center lies in its psychological push and pull.  There's psychological and physical armor punctured, and "Edge Of Tomorrow" displays both well.  Cage revisits Normandy to prevent the Mimic attack from spreading beyond the European continent.  It all smells like Top Gun spirit, or, more precisely, post-traumatic stress, which is one of its points. 

Breathtaking and visually impressive, "Edge Of Tomorrow" obviously messages the inanity and futility of war and the perils of repeating history, driving points home through repeated (and rapidly tiring) joke lines like "something's wrong with that suit . . . there's a dead man in it."  The "suit" is a hulking full metal jacket, a life-sized Terminator 2 endoskeleton replete with heavy artillery.  The metal get-up is pure authentic killing machine, the ultimate merger between humankind and horror.  Imagine what today's school mass-shooters in America might wear in 2082 if they could afford the N.R.A.'s asking price. 

"Edge" smartly parodies the masculinity of war in war films and perhaps Mr. Liman's use of Ms. Blunt, very good as Vrataski, indicates the future of soldier demographics in battle.  Vrataski is one of two women in "Edge Of Tomorrow" seen fighting the Mimics, which, in both its future setting and given today's more socially conscious America might be seen as an anachronism in itself.  The pieces don't always have to fit, and Mr. Liman's film is a memory piece the way "Vanilla Sky" was.  Noah Taylor is Mr. Cruise's co-star in both, playing a fixer doctor who has lost his bearings here in a way he was sure of them in Cameron Crowe's film.

It's fitting that Mr. Liman's cerebral film is released on this, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the landing of troops on the beaches of Normandy, France.  "Edge Of Tomorrow" doesn't grapple with the moral consternation of war but digs deep into its procedure, spectacle and theatre.  "Edge Of Tomorrow" represents a futuristic, comfy edition of June 6, 1944.  It is synthetic, stylized and virtually bloodless, a psychological swim through the sublime and subliminal.  Unlike "Saving Private Ryan", Mr. Liman's film celebrates close, pulsating calls over visceral, devastating consequences.  "Edge Of Tomorrow" plays like a vivid, razor-sharp PlayStation videogame: lifelike, addicting and adrenaline-fueled.

A dazzling visual effects drama, "Edge Of Tomorrow" arrests, entertains but falls flat in its climax.  It is goofy and wildly funny on occasion.  Mr. Cruise and Ms. Blunt's characters are the only two soldiers on the mechanized battlefield experiencing recurring war.  A 20-something century type of Agent Orange apparently keeps the  troops from advancing beyond a deadly battle theatre and completing the war mission to liberate Europe from the boisterous Mimics.  In a weak subplot there's an omega that Cage must see and destroy to kill off the Mimics.  I was surprised Cage would see anything but stars considering the number of times he's put out of his misery.  Then again, you can't keep a dead man alive.  But you can't kill him either. 

Self-vanity has never been something Mr. Cruise has tired of eviscerating over the years ("Eyes Wide Shut", "Vanilla Sky", "Minority Report", "Valkyrie" among others.)  Mr. Cruise relishes such defacing and masking in Mr. Liman's sci-fi Groundhog Day drama, a calling card that playfully mocks the actor's indestructible image after 35 years in the Hollywood business.  Mr. Cruise gets his faced smashed and butt kicked like never before in "Edge Of Tomorrow".  Knowing his appetite for high-risk adventure something tells me he enjoyed it more than he did dancing in underwear ("Risky Business") or wriggling around in it ("Magnolia").  For Tom Cruise "Edge Of Tomorrow" is service with a smile.

It's fun to watch the interaction between Ms. Blunt and Mr. Cruise.  Strangely enough I tried to picture Katharine Hepburn repeatedly shooting Spencer Tracy on the big screen.  If that's not comedy, I don't know what is.

Also with: Brendan Gleason, Bill Paxton.

"Edge Of Tomorrow" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and brief suggestive material.  The film's running time is one hour and 53 minutes.

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