Synopsis: A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.
Stars: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Running Length: 91 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (10/10)
Review: I remember reading the plot summary for Gravity nearly two years ago and having no clue how director Alfonso Cuarón was going to pull it all off. Essentially a two person film, you’d have to cast the right actors and keep their fight for survival moving at the correct pace to retain the attention of the audience. Adding greater difficulty for a film set in space, the bar has been raised so high in the visual effects realm in recent years that you just can’t deliver anything less than astonishing to make us believe that this situation is real and happening in front of your eyes.
It’s probably an understatement to say that Gravity gets everything right.
What we have here is maybe the visually impressive film ever made; its craftsmanship is so subtle, so under the radar that you start to actually believe Cuarón and his actors filmed this mesmerizing opus miles outside of our atmosphere.
The film begins with a nearly deafening simple title sequence with just white letters on a black screen. Maybe it was just the Dolby Atmos sound system in the theater I caught a screening in, but my ears were throbbing within the first thirty seconds. It’s all part of keeping you off-kilter, though, as that blasting soon gives way to absolute silence as the film shows a space shuttle coming closer and closer. As the camera pans nearer to it we start to hear the blips of radio transmissions between the astronauts working on the Hubble telescope and Houston back on earth.
In a seamless tracking shot that lasts nearly fifteen minutes, the camera floats up, down and around the action where Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock, The Heat, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) works away and retiring space veteran Matt Kowalski (George Clooney, The Descendants) goofs around trying to beat a record time for longest space walk. The tranquility of these early moments is not long-lasting, though, as Houston alerts the crew that debris from a Russian satellite is heading their way. With no time to escape, Stone and Kowalski can only brace for impact as the wreckage destroys their ship and transport back home.
That’s pretty much exactly what the numerous trailers for Gravity have shown you so far and those that think they’ve seen it all have only skimmed the surface because this happens in the first fifteen minutes of the 91 minute film. What follows is primarily Stone’s story of survival as she works with Kowalski (at one point the two are tethered together) to find a way to safety. It makes no sense to reveal any more, it’s not that the film is dependent on keeping a review spoiler-free but I can’t imagining seeing the film knowing how it was all going to turn out because at several points I wasn’t sure where it was headed.
Though the central set-up and a few late in the day personal elements are thrown in are somewhat contrived, it doesn’t lessen the overall impact the film will have on you. On the other hand, while the film is a visual marvel it doesn’t fall back on its effects to cover up any weak points in the script. There’s a justified nature to almost everything that happens here and it’s completely involving, and endlessly engaging.
Originally slated to star Angelina Jolie and Robert Downey, Jr., Cuarón wound up with Bullock and Clooney and Gravity is all the better for it. Clooney brings his usual charisma front and center for his role and even if it’s a part the actor could play in his sleep, the way he supports Bullock shows what a true movie star he is. .
Many people still can’t get over the Bullock bested Meryl Streep for the Best Actress Oscar for her work in The Blind Side but I still say that Julie and Julia was not a movie that Streep was destined to win for. Bullock’s award was well earned and she hasn’t been touched by the Best Actress Curse (hello, Halle Berry!) in her selective roles since. Her performance here is surely going to earn another trip to the Oscars and she’s a considerable contender for the award (though as of now I still believe it’s going to go to Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine) and there’s no question she deserves the nomination. It’s a inspired flesh and blood performance with a lot of guts – the actress has a breathtaking sequence where she sheds her space suit and just floats silently spinning. Cuarón isn’t afraid to let this sequence play on and for Bullock’s vulnerability to be seen at its maximum potential. Bravo to both for some seriously incredible work.
Count on this film to nab every single technical Oscar this year because the cinematography, visual effects, and sound design are jaw-dropping. The views of space of flawless and seamless with not a shoddy cell on display. I also appreciated the understated but powerful score by Steven Price. Cuarón and his son Jonas created the screenplay for this and minor quibbles aside, it’s a lean story that’s merely a set-up for the performances and visuals to thrive. A truly landmark achievement.
Gravity is one of those movies that you simply must see in the theater. I saw it in 3D and would recommend it for Cuarón’s restrained use of the technology coupled with a brilliant sound design. It’s worth the upgrade, without question.
Though it’s been several weeks since I’ve seen the film, multiple moments/sequences still are running around in my brain and I can’t wait to see it again. It took my breath away the first time I saw it and I hope you have the same experience when you take it in as well. One of the best films of the year and one of the best movies from a technical standpoint ever made.