Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Release Date: October 4th 2013
“Life in space is impossible,” reads one of the lines of text at the beginning of the new thriller Gravity. The ninety minutes that follow evaluate that thesis as the main characters struggle to survive in an alien atmosphere that is both horrifying and gorgeous (that juxtaposition is on clear display here) .
From the story’s earliest moments, director Alfonso Cuarón proves his capabilities as a powerful filmmaker. It’s hard not to be impressed with the vividness of the world he creates on an IMAX and 3D screen (the extra costs associated with both features is easily worth it here.) Even in the quietness of space, the director has crafted a world that seems compellingly real. The picture quality reminded me of the shots you see of the atmosphere at science museums that specialize in this field.
Several science museums offer quick peeks at what space might look like for a moment or two– the director here offers ninety minutes of that.
The minimal plot here focuses on Ryan Stone, played by an absolutely compelling Sandra Bullock. Stone, a doctor by trade, has been sent into space with a crew of astronauts — including the charismatic Matt Kowalski (George Clooney)– to upload a program she helped create into the Hubble telescope. Their mission– like so many other similar missions– requires a sophisticated knowledge of the atmosphere and carry with them a staggering amount of risk.
Early on in the story, the mission goes awry when debris from a Russian satellite goes spiraling into the atmosphere. From there, the remaining astronauts are put to the test as they attempt to survive in a hostile and unwelcoming environment where every movement on the outside of a spacecraft requires preparation and skill.
The main focus is on Stone, who serves as the main character. She, like us, isn’t adept for this world so we witness her struggles here. When, for instance, she goes spinning into space, Cuarón’s camera doesn’t focus on her as a lone figure in the atmosphere. It focuses on her face as we witness Bullock show all of the depth and power that her acting offers. From fear to resignation to frustration, her face is hard to watch but difficult to look away from. In scenes such as this (and many many others), Bullock showcase a side of her we’ve seldom seen before. In the romantic comedies that she’s well-known for, Bullock showed a certain level of skill as an actor. As Leigh Anne Tuohy in The Blind Side, she offered something more. Here, she offers easily one of the year’s best performances and one that should astound and inspire aspiring actresses interested in the craft.
As a whole, Gravity succeeds where so many other features have failed. It perfectly blends the elements of a science fiction blockbuster– A-list stars and amazing special effects– with a powerful and subtle story. With a lesser director, this film would’ve been a disaster. With another actress playing the lead, the whole concept could’ve fallen apart. Here, though, the movie succeeds as an epic feature with an indie-movie sensibility.
Powerful, astounding and edge-of-your-seat exciting, this qualifies as one of the year’s best films and a masterpiece that will be talked about endlessly in the years to come.
Review by: John Hanlon