Director Doug Liman puts a stellar Tom Cruise on loop.
“As a funny, energetic piece of popcorn fiction, the damned thing simply works, but as a showcase for its lead, it’s sublime.”
Edge of Tomorrow
Release date: June 6, 2014 (USA)
Director: Doug Liman
Stars: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton
Running time: 113 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
Edge of Tomorrow has one of my favorite final closeups in recent memory. The face that’s the subject of said close-up belongs to star Tom Cruise, shining that 10-megawatt smile that’s made him and his movies a fortune many times over, and that smile is sweet, and it’s funny, and it’s kind of silly all at once and sums up what’s so terrific about this film from director Doug Liman.
Based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel All You Need is Kill, Edge of Tomorrow rightly earns its comparisons to Groundhog Day (albeit with a lot more gunplay: accused of desertion in a war against the alien Mimics, military recruiter William Cage (Cruise) is busted down to private and shipped off to the front lines, only to die minutes into his first battle. But then when he wakes up, only to do it all over again, trapped in the same scenario, over and over again.
For its first two acts, Liman plays the horrors of war as a comedy as Cage tries (and fails) to escape the loop or at least not die bloody. Cage goes to the front, he dies; he runs, he dies; he meets a Special Forces hero Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) who has some insight into his crisis, and he dies. We have so much fun in the first two thirds of Edge of Tomorrow, that it’s almost easy to miss how interesting and effortlessly nuanced Cruise’s work is here.
The real success of the film is that it’s not just one vital Tom Cruise performance, but several from across the actor’s three decades of stardom Charlie Babbit‘s easy cravenness is there right alongside the steely-eyed intensity of Ethan Hunt while Vincent‘s ruthlessness is upended by the wounded and very human vulnerability of Jerry Maguire.
It’s also a movie whose CG has weight. Wearing their strength-enhancing Jacket exoskeletons, Blunt and Cruise zip around the battlefield, blasting away at the Mimics with high-caliber weapons and we watch both the squid-like invaders and our heroes get obliterated in any number of ways. The Jackets – and the CG behind them – accent the action, even if the Mimics might feel a little amorphous as enemies.
It’s great that the visceral experience of superstar Tom Cruise giving 110% as an anime character trapped in a time warp works so well, because the script is a little clunky, as it tries to keep Cage (and us) up to speed about just what the hell is happening. See, there are Alpha Mimics and then there might be an Omega Mimic, and as we learn from scientist-turned-mechanic Dr. Infodump (Noah Taylor), the Omegas can bend time but not really with Cruise in the loop. The script is loaded with so many terrific character to character moments, that when the movie has to give us an update on the plot and explain things, Edge of Tomorrow loses some of its loose and easy edge.
Blunt’s character, likewise, could have used another pass. Because she’s experiencing the loops differently than Cage, Rita doesn’t get the kind of shading that Cruise’s character does, alternating between impressive badass and wounded vet. Whether that’s just an incidental function of the script or by design, it feels unfortunate that Cruise isn’t allowed to have someone keep pace with his performance.
I could complain about the motely crew of J Company, the ragtag squad of cannon fodder Cage is assigned to meet his death alongside – I genuinely can’t remember a single one of their names – but here both the screenwriters and Liman are clever: each is given a striking visual trait so we’re able to trace what happens to the overweight guy who goes into battle without pants, or trailer park Helena Bonham Carter or, you know, the black guy.
The arc of Edge of Tomorrow bends towards Tom Cruise, so it’s hard to call these things failings if they serve such a wonderful performance. As a funny, energetic piece of popcorn fiction, the damned thing works, but as a showcase for its lead, it’s sublime.