Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone
George Clooney as Lt. Matt Kowalski
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
On her first mission in space to install technology in the Hubble telescope, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) gets caught up in a storm of space debris that takes out the space shuttle leaving her alone with Lt. Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) trying to survive in space.
“Children of Men” director Alfonso Cuaron’s first movie in seven years opens with a fantastic opening shot of Earth as seen from space. As the camera pans back we see a tiny shape hovering above, which turns out to be a space shuttle with three astronauts working on its exterior as they communicate with control in NASA.
There’s George Clooney’s Matt Kowalski, who cracks jokes and tells witty stories, enjoying his last mission by trying to beat the record length for a space walk. Sandra Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone on the other hand is on her first space mission and she’s clearly not adjusting well to being in zero gravity. Less than ten minutes after we’re introduced to the astronauts, their location is hit by a huge wave of space debris sending the space shuttle spinning which begins an incredible 80-minute roller coaster ride as we watch them trying to survive in outer space.
Once you get past the fact that much of “Gravity’s” first twelve minutes is one single continuous shot–the type of cinematic acrobatics Cuaron used to shock and awe with “Children of Men”–you can settle into the film’s pacing as it effortlessly accelerates and decelerates as if the entire movie were suspended in the same zero gravity as its leads.
Without going into too many specifics about what all happens on their journey of survival, “Gravity” is another amazing achievement for Cuaron as a filmmaker, as he successfully has created something that looks and feels unlike anything else you’re likely to see this year or any year. It’s a film that effortlessly defies comparisons since it approaches its subject matter in such a unique fashion, almost more like a documentary than a typical dramatic feature. Much of the credit for such a visually striking film has to go to Cuaron’s regular cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and visual FX specialist Timothy Webber whose amazing outer space sequences built around the actors go for absolute realism in terms of the environment and setting. Whether or not all of the science is accurate or not, it certainly feels very true in the way it captures the awkward physics of zero gravity.
If you aren’t a Sandra Bullock fan, then watching her for 90 minutes might seem like a chore, so it’s just as much a credit to her performance that you quickly forget that you’re watching the “Miss Congeniality” star as she struggles to survive, showing her vulnerability in some of the film’s few calmer moments. Nothing is easy for her as she desperately tries to get from the downed space station to first a Russian and then the Chinese space stations in hopes of finding an escape pod that can get her safely to Earth. By comparison, Clooney’s schtick does get a bit taxing at times since he’s not offering nearly as much range as Bullock, but like everything else in the movie, it’s not something you have to worry about for the entire running time.
There are times when it’s a little hard to fathom that what you’re watching is possible, especially when Dr. Stone uses a trick right out of “WALLE” to get to one of the space stations, but Cuaron and his team have created a visual magic trick that leaves you wondering how they were able to create some of the sequences which makes it far easier to forgive the lengths you’re sometimes expected to go in order to suspend disbelief.
Another key element in the film’s unique drive is the deep throbbing score by Steven Price which creates more excitement during the action-oriented sequences while enducing even more emotion from the film’s quieter, more poignant moments. Like the best scores–and this most assuredly is one of the best scores–it enhances the storytelling without ever detracting from it.
The Bottom Line:
With enough kinetic energy and cinematic fireworks to overshadow any problems one might have in suspending their disbelief in regards to the storytelling, “Gravity” is simply the most spectacular movie you’ll see this year.