Dr. Ryan Stone and Astronaut Matt Kowalski are left adrift in space when debris from a detonated satellite destroys their Space Shuttle. With only their wits and ingenuity to arm them, they race against time to navigate to a nearby Space Station with the barest of technology at their disposal and little hope to returning home.
Gravity, from Alfonso Cauron, is a stunning, masterful slice of cinema, a must see. The film is amazing from its opening, establishing shot to its final frame. Cauron’s camera dances around its subjects capturing the beauty, danger and emptiness of space. It is also a triumph of the human spirit, the will to live and the value of sacrifice. The cast consists primarily of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney with the voice of Ed Harris grounding them as “Houston.” The film belongs to Bullock who gives the performance of a lifetime, fragile, damaged, frightened and way out of her league, but resourceful, intelligent and determined. The script, while it asks its audience to take some contrivances at face value, makes the most of its 90 minute run time, providing insane, lengthy action and extended, quiet emotional beats. The film also takes advantage of the 3D elements, placing the audience right in the thick of it.
Gravity may very well be the perfect film. The cinematography is exquisite. The acting is beyond amazing. The direction is inventive, engaging and astounding – brilliant. The thrills are hard to beat and the connection to Bullock as Dr. Stone is 100% spot on. It is, undoubtedly, the best film of 2013, the one to beat in this year’s Oscar race. It literally takes you to places where only the fewest of men have ever been and colors the film with the most humanity seen in some time.
The script begins with its cast in space working on key experiments with the Earth behind them. Sandra Bullock stars as Dr. Ryan Stone whose research has landed her on this special scientific NASA mission. George Clooney is Astronaut Matt Kowalsky who is spending his time testing a new self-propelled backpack. Before Stone can complete rebooting the computer to send her info back to Houston, the debris from a Russian satellite that was detonated recently collides into the Space Shuttle. The results are catastrophic, sending Stone off structure tumbling into space. Fortunately, Kowalsky is able to locate her and retrieve her using the back pack, but time is running out with Stone’s oxygen at less than 10% and the shuttle is irreparably damaged.
Director Alfonso (Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) Cauron has outdone himself. His previous films are a joy to behold, full of imagination and style and finesse. His film’s are an art, but never at the sacrifice of cinema. Gravity is an astonishing achievement, visually breathtaking with jaw-dropping scenes that are both hard to believe yet, somehow, undeniably authentic. He is equally at home having Bullock be just a small dot on the screen, nearly blending with the countless stars behind her, as he is with the tightest of closeups. Both tell the story with varying amounts of emotion and impact. The results are simply unforgettable, frightening, emotionally draining and exciting. Never is the condition of weightlessness questioned or the emptiness of space inconceivable. Every scene is so technically calculated and executed that the film is well over before the audience has any opportunity to question any logic or motivation for decisions. If there are flaws in this film, and surely there are some buried somewhere, they are camouflaged so effortlessly and completely by Cauron’s gifted eye, commendable crew, edited into the tightest 90 minutes ever, that they simply do not matter. The impact of this film, and Cauron’s direction, is akin to Spielberg’s Jaws,¬†Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather¬†or Cameron’s Aliens.
The film is draped carefully, masterfully, around its star, Sandra Bullock who is afforded the opportunity of a lifetime. She is amazing in Gravity, emotionally, physically. It is an iconic performance, one that is destined to be remembered. She brings so much of the human spirit into the character and the story that everything around her benefits from it. Her early determination while desperately trying to complete her experiment during a space walk as she also fights the nausea and apprehension of being in the exact spot she is in at that very moment draws the audience in. She wraps them around her gloved finger from the very onset and never lets go. With George Clooney’s Matt Kawalsky drawing key elements of her past out as he struggles to keep her calm elevates her character to epic proportions. Later, Bullock ties her back story to her emotions effortlessly leaving the audience in a puddle of tears and lumped throats rooting for Dr. Stone to survive, somehow, beyond all hope. It’s that determination, that will to survive, even when it is tested to the absolute core of its foundation, that Bullock shines. It’s a performance everyone will be talking about.
There are a lot of films that include 3D, but very few of them integrate it so seamlessly and completely as Gravity does. Hugo, Life of PI, Dredd and Avatar come to mind. This is one of the few films that must be seen in 3D if at all possible. The film set almost entirely in space, uses that emptiness, that vast depth to its utmost advantage seizing every opportunity to bring the audience into key scenes or accentuate the distance between objects. Cauron even has fun throwing items into the audience face as a small reminder, but not in a cheap way. Instead, it is used to either build on the notion of weightlessness or hammer home the speed and urgency of the destruction. While the trailers and promotional materials have already shown Dr. Stones off structure, lost-in-space moments that the 3D captures so beautifully, it is other more subtle moments that are beautiful to behold: a single tear from Dr. Stone that floats off her cheek, the sparks of flame from a frayed wire that have no real direction to travel leaving it stranded in space, or a shot of an exhausted Dr. Stone in a space station curled into a fetal position asleep, floating as alone in the station as she is in space. Then there is the explosions and destruction that flies fierce and chaotic, everywhere, every direction, occasionally directly at the camera causing the audience to scream and duck for cover. This film should not be missed in 3D, and in IMAX for added immersion. Incredible!
Gravity is a brilliant film, structurally, from script to screen. Every element is in its perfect place: the cast, the dialog, the direction, the cinematography (by Emmanuel Lubezki), the sound design, and on and on and on. The editing is key as is the 3D. Director, Alfonso Cauron, weaves his camera in and out of the action with dizzying affect and focuses in for incredible personal moments.The result is the most terrifying non-horror film in decades. The film sets up the events with a clock work precision. Ed Harris’ voice from Houston informs the characters and the audience of the detonation of a Russian satellite sharing he will keep them up to date. Later he alerts them to scramble back to Space Shuttle, immediately. Clooney’s character has Dr. Stone set her clock to a 90 minute countdown after calculating the debris’ return in orbit. The effects of carbon dioxide are set up early in the film only to play out much later with amplified importance. It is beyond Hitchcockian in importance. Every detail matters. Every action is crucial. Every thought has consequences. Every breath is paramount. Gravity is a masterful exercise in cinema, significant, energetic and affecting.
5 out of 5