*** (3 stars)
d – Doug Liman
w – Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth (Based on the Novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka)
ph – Dion Beebe
m – Christophe Beck
pd – Oliver Scholl
ed – James Herbert
cos – Kate Hawley
p – Jason Hoffs, Gregory Jacobs, Tom Lassally, Jeffrey Silver, Erwin Stoff
Cast: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson, Jonas Armstrong, Tony Way, Kick Gurry, Franz Drameh
To master skill, we repeat. Being forced to do things over and over again may well give us an education, but more importantly it gives us an understanding. It is the understanding that prompts us to keep repeating the repetition. It isn’t that “practice makes perfect”, it’s that practice reduces the imperfection.
Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow is a sci-fi jigsaw puzzle with such an acuminous take on the genre that despite a few awkward dips and some modest drama here and there, I can only react to it as a triumph. We are currently in an era of Hollywood cinema where the movies can either be about action or philosophy. Mr Liman’s film is about both, and furthermore it is an onslaught of delicious mind-game buffoonery.
The first 15 minutes of the film are admittedly confusing: In the near future, an alien race has raided Earth, landing in Germany and has engulfed almost the whole of Western Europe. The extraterrestrials are dubbed "Mimics" for their capacity to impersonate and counter Earth military battle tactics with a highly acute expertise, thus making them unassailable. This is all explained to us during a prologue of faux news footage.
Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is a desk jockey who is stripped of his rank and forced to join an infantry unit (for silly expository reasons that Mr Liman does away with immediately) at Heathrow Airport, who are there as part of a final surprise attack on the Mimics, lead by Special Forces soldier Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who had previously lead the one human victory at Verdun using newly designed “combat jackets”. After the attack goes horribly wrong, Cage dies and wakes up again at Heathrow, the exact day before, in the extact same clothes, at the exact same spot. He is conscious of this do-over but no one else is. For me to reveal more would be a crime.
Mr Liman – and screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth – are given a gimmicky ruse with which to play with, which is precisely what they do. The film is bereft of the ersatz irony that plagues all movies now and simply uses the workman’s tools (Dion Beebe’s rousing photography, Christophe Beck efficient score, James Herbert’s singular editing and some extraordinarily detailed visual effects) to tell a futuristic fable about the emotion in habitude and the barbarity of war.
Halfway through it becomes clear that Mr Liman has made a film about how the repetition we undertake in order to gain skill has taken us to a comfortable place; a place so comfortable it has stopped us from moving forward. Many will find this wan, if not completely labored. The last half-hour of the film is admittedly overlong and has maybe one philosophical sacrifice too many.
Tom Cruise, who is the world’s least ironic movie star (sans Tropic Thunder), and Emily Blunt are wonderful examples of the genesis of dimension that performers can bring where a script mightn’t. Their roles are tough because only a limited amount of personality is supplied for them due to the narrative’s structure. They convey just enough to propel – and justify – every decision the characters’ make. The romance that is inevitable in their relationship is always handled marvelously at mere sizzle and never at amorous froth. This is a rare occurrence.
Countries have gone to war with each other for centuries and the outcome is always the same: many, many lives are lost. There is no political or judicial passageway around it. War equals death. And if we keep repeating this first response to anger and injustice then we continue the cycle of violence. Mastering the skill of war masters nothing because there is always another side doing the same thing.
The problem with a movie like Groundhog Day (1993) – as is the case with all cinematic masterpieces – is that because it’s such a great movie, it has since forever owned its gimmick. I’ll be surprised if I read more than 3 pieces from my contemporaries that don’t mention the film. Edge of Tomorrow is hardly a masterpiece but it’s beyond worthy of the praise that befell Looper (2012), Inception (2010) and Minority Report (2002). It’s also such, such fun.