“A dazzling movie about all the different ways space wants to kill you.”
Seconds into GRAVITY, a text crawl helpfully informs us that “life in space is impossible.” Cuaron isn’t kidding. From the start, he drops us into a place where claustrophobia and agoraphobia collide; a fever dream of sweaty desperation against a bleak panorama of nothing. It’s a gorgeously produced, 90-minute panic attack of a film. And it’s one of the few releases in recent memory that really demands to be seen in 3D.
Roughly the first twenty minutes are a single, uninterrupted take – which is great for audience immersion and bad for audience blood pressure. Tension quietly builds as we watch reluctant astronaut Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and veteran Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) conduct repairs on the Hubble Telescope. It’s just another day at the office, except the office is miles above the atmosphere and wants to kill you. NASA Mission Control (voiced by Ed Harris) notes an incoming debris field but assures Stone and Kowalski they’re safe. Spoiler alert: they’re not. The Hubble suffers the space-equivalent of a shotgun blast and our heroes are left untethered, falling into the frictionless void. From here on, it’s a straight-up survival tale.
Everything you’ve probably heard about the 3D visual effects is true.
They’re jaw-dropping. But GRAVITY works as more than a shiny tech demo thanks in a large part to Bullock’s performance. She’s a relatable human presence, even when she’s dwarfed by all the expensive lights and sounds.
She earns our empathy and convincingly takes us from horror, to grief, to exhausted humor (“I hate space,” she gripes after a particularly close call). We root for her as she fights for every gulp of air. Because of Bullock, GRAVITY’s final thirty minutes are an emotional gut-punch.
And that’s why this is an excellent film and not just a well-made one. As technically complex as it is, what resonates is its narrative simplicity.
The plot can be described on a t-shirt. It features a handful of locations and approximately one subplot. The onscreen cast is basically just Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, and a fire extinguisher. Not a second is wasted here, and that’s one of the highest compliments a thriller can receive.
Of course, there are nits to be picked. George Clooney’s performance has a little too much George Clooney in it. The Hubble Telescope, the ISS, and the Tiangong all seem to orbit within (space)walking distance of each other. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the convenient physics of a certain death scene, and no doubt the armchair scientists will find a smorgasbord of inaccuracies. None of these issues dent the film’s power.
As an experience, GRAVITY is tough to criticize because virtually everything about it works. Cuaron’s directing is masterful, the script is clean-burning, the acting is affecting, the technical aspects are mind-boggling, and even the score is stirring. No wonder this movie has been grabbing every award that isn’t nailed down. And it’s back in theaters – what are you waiting for?
Review by: Taylor Adams