Part 1 of My 100 Movies of Summer 2014
Every summer, as May flips over to June, I make a silent vow to watch 100 movies by August 31. I’ve been successful in this endeavor the last 2 years so I’m hoping to keep it going.
This year, instead of a dry list summarizing what films I’ve watched, I’ve decided that every week I will highlight an individual movie that stood out from the pack and deserves special recognition.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014, d. Doug Liman)
The film starts with a news montage detailing the landing of an asteroid on Earth, bringing with it an unstoppable alien race that is steadily taking over Europe. The combined force of the world’s armies have little success in stopping the onslaught until one brave soldier in a battle suit, Rita Vrataski (played wonderfully by Emily Blunt), destroys hundreds of the aliens in a crucial battle. Emboldened by this victory, the united armies plan a massive attack to wipe out the invading force on the beaches of France.
Enter Tom Cruise playing Cage, a former ad man drawn into military service, whose job it is to drum up support for the war and to encourage recruitment. He is rather unceremoniously and unwillingly thrown into duty where he will be on the front line of the attack. The combat mission begins and the enemy forces are wholly prepared for Earth’s defenders. Thousands of soldiers are dying. Cage spies Vrataski fighting bravely on the field of battle only to be killed. Moments later, he himself is attacked but he manages to set off an explosive device that kills the alien. Consumed by the fire and covered in the alien’s blood, he dies. And wakes up, right back where he started on the military base where the previous day began. After a couple of iterations, he comes to the inevitable conclusion that he’s stuck in a nightmarish loop that will always lead to his painful demise.
He quickly realizes that he needs to learn how to fight. Fortunately, there is a known fighter on base. Someone who has proven them self in combat. He approaches Vrataski and tells his tale. She believes him. Because the same thing has happened to her.
And this is where the movie starts getting really fun.
If the film sounds a bit like Duncan Jones’ Source Code, that’s because it is. That’s not really a problem though. This kind of time mechanic has been used dozens of times in movies. What matters is how the conceit is used. And here, it’s used to perfection. The movie plays like a video game where the main character has infinite lives to reach their goal. The goal is initially survival but the more Cage learns from Vrataski about fighting, the more he learns about his condition. The end game becomes infinitely more challenging. It’s no longer just about getting off that beach alive. It’s about saving the human race.
Cruise is frankly great in the role. He could sleepwalk through a part like this but he doesn’t. He starts as a coward and has to learn to become the character we’re used to seeing from him. The movie never explicitly states how many times he repeats the same day. But it is clear that it’s quite a few. The burden begins to show in his eyes. It’s enough to test a man’s soul, enough to break him. And at times, it does.
Blunt though, in sheer defiance of the mega-star and his mega-watt smile, is the real standout. She’s brassy and confident and entirely capable of saving the human race. She can’t be bothered to be a love interest for Cage. She’s too damn busy and too hardened from the experience of her own loop. She does convey an empathy for the man but at times it’s clear she sees him as a tool, a means to an end.
The beauty of their relationship is that every single day she’s meeting him for the first time. He’s had countless days to know her, to respect her, to admire her, and maybe to even love her. And every day, he has to watch her die. That’s almost Shakespearean.
The movie falters a bit in the third act as the consequences become a bit more final and the ending has a bit of a paradox that might drive a viewer a bit batty if they let it. But this is pure popcorn entertainment done well and intelligently. It’s by turns funny, thrilling and sad. And ultimately completely satisfying.
Summer 2014 has a film to beat.
If you are interested in seeing what other films I watched this week, you can always check out my profile at Letterboxd.