This lingers interestingly on the mind for a while after one’s seen it. The design, cinematography, the whole look of the film is sublime if rather different to the gorgeous play of light we got to see in Tron: Legacy (Joseph Kosinski, USA, 2010). It was extraordinary to see Tom Cruise with flushed cheeks at his age, every pore on his face clearly made visible by Claudio Miranda’s crack camerawork and lighting. The film too is beautiful to look at, with a spare aesthetic that empties the frame of things and fills it with wonderful use of line and striking and original compositions. Andrea Riseborough, displaying nervy intelligence and emotional neediness, and Tom Cruise, iconic yet also emotionally transparent, are both wonderful. Olga Kurylenko obviously needs to prance as she did in To the Wonder (Terece Malick, USA, 2012) in order to be watchable at all because here no prancing, dud performance, and rather dull to look at in spite of her beauty.
Oblivion suffers from a story that isn’t properly dramatised. I loved the minimalism of the first half but then, when more people arrived on the scene, it made the film seem less interesting. People have been saying it’s dull, and I do know what they mean; if one isn’t particularly attuned to the various delights cinema can offer on a purely visual plane, the film can seem slow as it doesn’t really compensate or underline story points or dramatise tension effectively with other dimensions of cinematic storytelling. However, I think Joseph Kosinski is a most fascinating director and would happily see this again, preferably on a big screen.
As a director, Madonna’s wonderful with sound and image; she’s got a lovely eye for detail; and the use of objects, décor and costuming here is that of a consummate connoisseur. She can use, draw upon, and create iconic images. A lot of W.E is shot like video-clips strung together into story. But based on what we can see in W.E, Madonna has yet to master narrative.
Here she has trouble telling even one of the most famous and oft-repeated stories of the 20th Century; which is to say she has trouble telling even the pre-told: how Edward VIII (James D’Arcy) renounced his throne to marry Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), a smart American woman, already twice divorced, who was too thin, not rich enough, and way too old. What Madonna has to say on Wallis, on the period, even on the wish to be a mother etc. is too trite. And even that triteness is not well-conveyed or shown or told. Why the story of a modern-day Manhattanite (Abbie Cornish) needs to be set up as our conduit into this is so unnecessary it seems baffling; and this attempt at complex dual sotry-telling over-relies on montage and voice-over to such an extent it sinks the film.
Madonna is her own drama, a spectacular one that fascinates millions, but she cannot dramatise the stories of others so as to hold interest much less enchant; she’s able to show but not tell; and her showing is more of an act of hiding than of revelation (it has ever been so with her, even when she took her clothes off, even with Sex). However, W.E. is interesting in that it focuses on the foreigner, the outsider, the woman. Andrea Riseborough was rightfully praised for her performance as Wallis; she convey the nervy, edgy, jazz-age energy and smarts that one associates with Wallis, though her feature are softer than those we see in old photographs and she is perhaps too beautiful for the part. The film is not good but was too severely and unjustly damned. The jewels and costumes alone are worth seeing.