1. Tom Cruise. Cruise is easy to dislike offscreen, largely because of the creepy Scientology stuff and the fact that his ex-wives tend to grab the kids and flee at some point. On screen, Cruise is a modern-day John Wayne or Humphrey Bogart, in that the character he usually plays, no matter the movie, is pretty much himself. That’s why his performance feels so much fresher in Edge of Tomorrow. Yes, Cruise starts out as the glib PR guy who is more than willing to promote war but wants nothing to do with the actual fighting, what you’d normally expect from a Tommy performance. But it’s not standard wink-and-a-smile, devil-may-care Cruise. There’s a desperation there, a desire to hide his cowardice, that comes to the forefront after his forced march from backstage to the front line. I’m used to loud, bold Cruise, whether that is Maverick and Cole Trickle from his big mainstream films or Frank Mackie and Ron Kovic in the more prestigious pics. This more subtle Cruise is one I’m not sure I’ve seen before, definitely not for a full movie.
2. Doug Liman. When Liman gets mentioned, it’s usually for being overly picky and going over-budget. And while for some reason those same traits make James Cameron a god, Liman’s reputation has taken a hit. But Liman has a unique ability: Creating interesting relationships amid chaos. Whether that’s the exasperated Claire and the skeevy drug dealer Todd in the one-crazy-night atmosphere in Go, amnesia-burdened Jason Bourne and the in-over-her-head Marie in the super-soldier tale of The Bourne Identity, the unhappily married spies of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, etc., Liman finds the way to create relationships that up the stakes when the action kicks in. Here, our heroine Rita and our anti-hero Cage must find a way to trust each other, to be able to rely on each other as they make repeated attempts to find and defeat the hive mind that leads the aliens. What Liman resists is pushing that trust and respect into an awkward and unnecessary love story, instead creating a tale of comrades-in-arms who figure out a way to beat the odds and do what needs to be done. More Liman, please, whatever tale he wants to tell.
3. The special effects. The beach landing is great, soldiers dropping from the sky, explosions in the air and on the ground, equipment burning and crashing. Too often with CGI, it seems easy to get taken out of the moment by the blatant falseness of what’s being shown. Somehow – possibly by largely being less effects-focused and more story-focused, leading to less CGI except for key scenes – Edge of Tomorrow avoids that.
4. Emily Blunt. Last and certainly not least. I find myself loving Blunt more and more each time I see her. The Adjustment Bureau, Looper, The Devil Wears Prada, Edge of Tomorrow. Blunt is an actor who elevates the material, regardless of what said material may be. Here, she plays the dominant personality in a relationship with Tom freakin’ Cruise, which can’t be the easiest thing to pull off. Blunt doesn’t even break a sweat … well, except when she’s chopping up aliens with her enormous, bad-ass sword.