By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney
Picture yourself as a child. You have just been given a telescope and spend weekend upon weekend nights running out in the green grass of the park in order to get the most open space possible and as wide open a view of the stars above you. Flash forward to yourself as an adult. You have gone through all the rigors possible in order to fulfill that dream you had as a child all those years ago and are officially an astronaut. You are doing a cumbersome repair on the outside of your ship. And then, the dream turns into a nightmare as debris hits you, hurling your helpless body through the other reaches of space. I could go on using bad puns such as ‘Gravity defies logic to be the most uplifting film of the year.” But this film does not deserve that. What it does deserve is a high mark for innovation. Armed with the acting talents of both Clooney and Bullock, director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) has crafted perhaps the most gut wrenching and visually arresting film of the year.Now, I have been pretty open about my feelings on Children of Men. I have always thought that movie was one of the most overrated films to come down the pike in quite awhile. Which is why going into this screening of Gravity, I was not necessarily in the frame of mind that it would be the minimalistic masterpiece it was already being touted as. However, all of these thoughts flew from my mind like a comet when I took in Cuaron’s very first shot. Gravity opens with a shot of planet Earth, and Cuaron’s way of almost always keeping Earth in the film’s frame helped prove to me that Gravity was not a self-serving mish mosh of old Kubrick combined with today’s technology. Cuaron has a complete story of helplessness to tell, and his unwillingness to leave the immersive aesthetic that outer space truly is quite impressed me.
Most films of this type would spend the first half using the tropes that come with ‘rising to the occasion’ films detailing every sense of our characters’ trials and tribulations & how they ended up in outer space to begin with. But Cuaron shies away from this temptation, choosing instead to introduce them in their current element. If this critic may say so, this was a fantastic approach. The way carefully chosen for the moment anecdotes are slowly unfurled and we realize we are learning of their life plights to the complete rhythm of space is capricious filmmaking at its finest. Both Bullock and Clooney are great in their roles. I used to think of Bullock as an almost mousy presence. But truth be told, she passed mousy about 8 films ago. When we meet her character of Ryan Stone, she is having trouble keeping her lunch down. Yet, she doesn’t let loose with a bunch of ‘aw shucks’ cracked voice complaints about it as she would in past roles. Clooney plays Matt Kowalski as an almost beaten down astronaut who feels he knows the outer reaches like the back of his hand, and always coming forth with the bluster of machoness that Clooney is best at. He is constantly there for self-esteem pep talks to first time astronaut Stone, and it is these scenes in which the film’s script (by Cuaron and his son Jonas) feels at its height.
At 93 minutes, Gravity moves at a rapid pace. Yet some people may look at it as one long scene & set piece, putting it in the same category as Open Water. Truth is, Cuaron’s use of the camera in Gravity bears an almost hallucinatory restlessness. He uses it as a window, and the frantic peril that is felt when a piece of Russian satellite debris hits Stone & sends her hurling through space is one of the biggest jolts I have felt in a theater in quite some time. He doesn’t stop there, as constant revolving POVs fill the screen at an unpredictable pace, literally putting us right behind the masks of these characters.Gravity’s special effects (which have already had praise sung by the one and only James Cameron) are photorealistic and seamless. In other words, Cuaron has succeeded in giving people such as us, who laid there dreaming of being in space, about the most immersive experience as possible without getting on a shuttle ourselves (especially if you see it in IMAX 3D.) Films in space have had an interesting dynamic in film history. When done right, they can be downright nihilistic and absorbing (Alien.) When done wrong, they come off as cheap and bad plot devices (Apollo 18.) With Gravity, director Alfonso Cuaron has set a new standard of what you can do with space if filmed right. Sure, there were some minimalistic two note attempts to sympathize with one note plights. But if you ever sat on that grass as a child and thought the ever so engaging thought of going into outer space, you would be doing yourself a complete disservice to not see Gravity. It is a completely engaging look at two characters living a dream only to have it turn into a nightmare right before our very eyes.