Review: Gravity (TIFF 2013)
PLOT: Two astronauts- medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and veteran flight commander Matt Kowalksky (George Clooney)- find themselves adrift in space after debris from a satellite causes a catastrophic incident.
REVIEW: Every once in a while, a genre film comes along that pushes the form to such an extent that it throws down the gauntlet to other filmmakers, daring them to be as audacious in their craft. Alfonso Cuaron's made two films like this. The first was CHILDREN OF MEN, and GRAVITY is the second.
Unfolding in something close to real time, GRAVITY is about as compact as thrillers can get. It's all about survival, and from the time the two astronauts find themselves marooned, it never abandons that premise. The entire movie takes place in space. Mission:control is off-screen (with Ed Harris providing the voice of ground-control, a great nod to APOLLO 13). It's all about Bullock and Clooney as they do anything they can to survive.
The two stars are an interesting study in contrasts. Clooney plays the veteran easy-going astronaut, who's never anything less than one hundred percent confident in his ability to control the situation. His mandate on the mission is to protect his crew, and he never veers from that objective, with self-preservation being nothing but an afterthought. His only goal is to make sure Bullock's character survives, and Clooney superbly conveys both the character's bravado and nobility.
However, GRAVITY is Bullock's film through and through. If Clooney's character's only interest is Bullock's survival, Cuaron makes damn sure ours is the same. Despite the incredibly tight ninety-minute running time, Cuaron (who co-wrote the script with his son Jonas) does all he can to make her personable. In his hands, Bullock's survival is not only a physical challenge, but an emotional one too, which she plays brilliantly. While Bullock's got an Oscar under her belt, she's never been challenged in the way she is here, and she rises to the occasion. A movie like this isn't worth anything if you don't invest in the characters emotionally, but here it's never a question. Seemingly every A-list actress was attached to the part before Bullock signed on, but watching her here, it's unfathomable to imagine anyone else. Her chemistry with Clooney is also pitch-perfect, and it's a wonder these two haven't acted together before, as they play off each other beautifully.
But back to Cuaron's craft. What is it that makes GRAVITY so impressive? For one thing, on a purely visual level, I can't really think of any sci-fi tentpole movies that could possibly hold a candle to it. The many unbroken takes (with the first one being twelve minutes long), coupled with the VFX, and innovative use of 3D makes you almost feel like you're stuck in space with Clooney and Bullock. This is especially true whenever Cuaron and dp Emmanuel Lubezki, switch to Bullock's perspective, making you feel like you're right there in the spacesuit with her. The tension is ramped up to almost unbearable heights (with a propulsive musical score by Steven Price complementing the action) The only downside is that GRAVITY is such a theatrical experience (although it was not presented in IMAX format- which it'll be released in) that it's impossible to imagine watching it at home, no matter how advanced your home theatre system is.
Admittedly, we all expected GRAVITY to be great. Cuaron's one of our true modern masters, and GRAVITY doesn't disappoint. While CHILDREN OF MEN didn't break the bank at the box office (although it should have) GRAVITY has the potential to be a megahit that'll play just as well with mainstream audiences as it did with the critics and- likely- the academy. This is one that's worth getting excited about.
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