Gone are Steven Spielberg’s cuddly outer space creatures. The master moviemaker is now part of the age of 9/11. His “War of the Worlds” is an exercise in full-blown horror as evil aliens from the sky terrorize earthlings into mass panic.
Using his immense talent to create riveting suspense and near-total destruction, Spielberg re-invents the H.G. Wells’ sci-fi classic with nod to the World Trade Center tragedy of 2001. He keys into contemporary fears in the way Orson Welles provoked panic with his 1938 Halloween radio broadcast of the story at the outset of World War II.
Divorced, working-class hero Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) returns home to his kids, 10-year-old Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and teenage Robbie (Justin Chatwin), petrified with fear after he witnessed giant alien “tripods” destroying his New Jersey town and its inhabitants. Covered in dirty white dust, he resembles Manhattan dwellers, visitors and workers who escaped the collapsing Twin Towers on that infamous September day.
Once the attack begins, the film becomes a hair-raising struggle for survival. However, Ray has more to battle than the aliens. A mob of frantic pedestrians overcomes his still-functioning auto, nearly ripping our hero and his kids to pieces in an attempt to steal the vehicle. Also, Ray is at odds with Robbie, whose adolescent attitude is almost as problematic as the space invasion.
Then, there’s Ogilvy. Tapping into his “Mystic River” derangement, Tim Robbins plays the haunted man, who provides Ray and Rachel temporary refuge, with an uncontrollable desperation that our hero must extinguish or risk death for himself and his daughter. The Robbins-Cruise episodes are the most powerful and suspenseful in the film, particularly when the nasty invaders show up in the basement hideout.
It must be noted that those who’ve been put off by Cruise’s recent outbursts proclaiming his love life and religious beliefs should not be dissuaded from seeing “Tom Cruise, movie actor,” in this highly entertaining film. He gives a passionate performance as a father surpassing insurmountable obstacles to protect his children. Through Spielberg, he shows that when the world is crumbling everywhere, all is not lost for a kid who can count on dear old Dad.