It must be an exceptionally easy casting decision to hire Olga Kurylenko to play an object of desire.
Which is not to say she is an object in any way, of course. In fact, Kurylenko seems to be constantly pushing me as a critic to redefine how I view her as an actor. Seeing her in “Quantum Of Solace” or “Hitman,” she certainly seems like a lovely woman, but those roles don’t challenge her, and they don’t demonstrate any range at all. The first time I really paid attention to the choices she was making was in Neil Marshall’s “Centurion,” where she played the mute assassin Etain. It was a damn-near feral performance, and all of a sudden, it was clear that she’s much more than just a stunning face.
The one-two punch of “To The Wonder” and “Oblivion” should start to make that abundantly clear to the observant. I was not in love with “To The Wonder,” but a lot of what Kurylenko does in it is impressive and emotionally honest and even more impressive because it is largely non-verbal.
In “Oblivion,” she’s playing a mystery, a woman who shows up in the dreams of Tom Cruise for reasons he can’t explain. In both cases, it feels like the work she’s doing is essential if these films are going to work at all. If she can’t create a strong emotional draw, then Cruise’s obsession seems totally false.
And in “To The Wonder,” since Malick is working without conventional dialogue for the most part, her entire relationship with Ben Affleck’s character is suggested by the behavior between them, the small details of the life they share. More than that, what she perfectly evokes is the initial thrill that many immigrants feel when they arrive in America, as well as the slow fade as the reality sets in and they realize all of their problems aren’t magically fixed.
I enjoyed this conversation with her immensely, and I suspect that as more filmmakers see the work she’s doing now and cast her in more and more challenging projects, it’s a conversation we’ll continue from film to film. If you want a peek at the process that actors go through with Malick or a discussion of how to create an emotional shorthand with a superstar icon, Kurylenko’s very open here, just as she is in the films.
“Oblivion” arrives in theaters on Friday.