Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Paul Sharma, and Ed Harris
Written By: Alfonso Cuarón and Jonas Cuarón
Directed By: Alfonso Cuarón
Unique movie experiences don’t come along often as even the greatest of movies share similarities with other great films that have come before them. Gravity can’t really be compared to anything that’s preceded it. Apollo 13 you say? Sort of… but not really. Gravity eliminates the conventional cinematic three-act structure in favor of a 90 minute tale of survival that plays out like one long intense sequence. On a technological and storytelling front, the film is groundbreaking. That’s not to say that its perfect as the movie does have some flaws, but nevertheless, Gravity is truly “something else”.
For starters, there are only two actors in the film whom ever appear on camera, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on her first shuttle mission. Clooney is Matt Kowalsky, a veteran astronaut on his last operation before retirement. We’ve seen this character dynamic of rookie and pro before, and yes it seems as though something always goes wrong on an old-timers last mission, however these details are integral to the story. Not to mention that this setup is more or less the only generic aspect of the movie so some slack should be cut. There are other characters in the film whom we hear in voice only, namely Mission Control as voiced by Ed Harris and a third astronaut named Shariff played by Paul Sharma. During a routine spacewalk, disaster strikes as large and high-speed pieces of debris from a nearby satellite destroy the teams space shuttle. The only members of the crew to survive are Stone and Kowalsky, now spiraling out into the darkness of space.
Director Alfonso Cuarón displayed his expertise for long unbroken shots in Children of Men, but here he ups his game. The opening 17 minutes of the film is one continuous and mesmerizing take without any cuts. The camera seamlessly whirls around the actors and action at 360 degrees with perfect choreography. The insanely realistic visual effects and technology implemented to create the feeling of being in the cosmos is outstanding. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that they actually shot this thing on-location in outer space. This is one of the most immersive movie experiences of all time and wether or not you’re a fan of the medium, it is absolutely essential to see Gravity in 3D. If possible, seek the film out in IMAX 3D where the format is so enveloping you’ll feel as if you’re a character in the movie soaring around the galaxy along with Stone and Kowalsky.
The action sequences of Gravity are terrifically exciting with edge-of-your-seat moments throughout so intense that you’ll hardly be able to take it. It’s hard to breathe a sigh of relief while watching this film. Murphy’s Law is utilized to the umpteenth degree as one dilemma after another piles up to the point where you’ll lose all hope along with the characters. Cuarón comes up with ingenious ways to put his characters into peril as well as get them out of it as Stone and Kowalsky find themselves in impossible circumstances which they somehow slyly triumph over. However, every small victory is short-lived as it only leads them into another escalating predicament. There are sequences throughout that are as tension filled and heart palpitating as any film in years.
As impressive as Gravity is, there are flaws which prevent the film from being an unadulterated crowning achievement. As epic a setting as deep space is, the film tells an essentially minimalist story and some of the scenes that take a break in the action becoming somewhat monotonous and repetitive. It seems entirely possible that the movie could have been 20 minutes shorter without taking away its impact. Of course, at a sparse 90 minutes as it is, a shorter running time wouldn’t constitute a feature-length film. This results in long beats that feel dragged out in order to reach a full-length quota. Also, as painstakingly detailed and realistic as some of the elements are presented (such as the lack of sound effects in space), there are also moments of absurdity. Events unfold ludicrously towards the last scenes of the film, especially with the unnecessary addition of a heavy-handed religious subtext and iconography. A climax focused on spirituality as well as the revelation of a traumatic experience from Ryan’s past makes for some forced sentimentality. Having said that, compared to the innovations that the film executes, these flaws can be mostly overlooked.
Undoubtedly, the performances of Bullock and Clooney take a backseat to the visual mastery, but both actors are quite effective. As Kowalsky, Clooney kind of plays Clooney; he’s suave, charming and incredibly assured under dire circumstances. He’s outstanding in one pivotal scene in particular in which he gets philosophical and waxes poetic to Ryan. If you ever do get lost in space, Clooney’s the guy you’d want to be tethered to. Bullock’s performance requires her to be in distress for the entirety of the movie until her inevitable character arc. She’s the true anchor here who forcibly carries the film.
Expertly crafted and using cutting-edge technology, Alfonso Cuarón has created a special cinematic experience with Gravity. But along with the minor flaws previously mentioned, there’s another peculiar one. To appreciate this film to full effect, it’s crucial to see Gravity on a big-screen in 3D. As soon as the film hits DVD a few months from now, the viewing experience will lose a lot of its impact. That’s no one’s fault really, as much as it is the nature of the medium. But to have an uncommon quandary such as that shows just how state-of-the-art Cuarón’s film truly is. Since most of us will never have the opportunity in reality, seeing Gravity is as close as you’re going to get to space exploration.