by Daniel Rester
It’s rare when a film can be both a triumph of the human spirit and a visual knockout. That’s exactly what Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity is, though. He and co-writer Jonas Cuaron, his son, have managed to turn a simple setup and story into one of the best films of the year.
That simple setup and story revolve around bio-medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). The two are up doing a spacewalk when satellite debris smashes into their shuttle and leaves them with limited air and communication abilities. They then must use a thruster pack to try and make it to the International Space Station so they can be safe and then return home. But such a thing is easier said than done when they have debris coming at them every 90 minutes and zero communication with Mission Control (Ed Harris provides the voice).
The film went through some development issues and Cuaron had to wait on certain technological capabilities, but the wait was worth it because Gravity is marvelous in many ways. This is because Gravity breaks ground, becoming one of the most (if not the most) realistic depictions of surviving in space ever put to film. With its use of visual effects (supervised by Tim Webber) and 3D (supervised by Chris Parks), the movie makes one feel as if they are up there with Stone and Kowalski, floating in space and viewing the Earth’s magnificence.
Aside from perfectly handling the tone and pace of the film, Cuaron also makes every frame count from both a storytelling and aesthetic standpoint. And boy are those frames wonderful. With the help of master cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Cuaron weaves the camera around in such ways to really capture the vastness of space; many of the shots even last minutes before breaking with a cut, showing Cuaron’s extreme skill at staging.
As the story progresses and the camera seems to float around for a while, one must appreciate the music score that helps drive everything. By going for a realistic approach in capturing space, there is no outside sound (most of the sound we hear is like how the characters might hear it in their suits) when all of the big things start happening. This leaves much up to Steven Price, who has fashioned an alternately beautiful and thrilling score for the film.
A lot also sits on the shoulders of Clooney and Bullock (especially the latter, who is technically the lead), who we rely on to be able to care about the characters and their situations. We do. Going off of the depth that the Cuarons provide to the characters through their writing, the actors manage to make Stone and Kowalski both relatable and interesting. Clooney has his usual charm and cracks jokes, but he also impresses when Kowalski must be more commanding when trying to calm down Stone. As Stone, Bullock also shines. She gives one of the better performances of her career as the engineer we take this adventure with; she strikes just the right balance of fear and heart.
I only had a few minor issues with Gravity. One is that the story is perhaps too basic when all is said and done, and I wish Cuaron would have had a few more developmental scenes for the going-ons in the beginning. Also, Bullock occasionally delivers certain dialogue that is obviously just a device for pushing forward the adventure. The subtler approach in just relying on the visuals and Bullock’s actions works better.
Cuoron’s film is excellently staged, visually striking and terrifically shot, and well-acted. It is definitely a film to be seen on the big screen, and one where the 3D is actually worth the extra price. Gravity is a visual masterpiece that deserves its high praise, yet it isn’t quite perfect altogether.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: A)