Friday, October 4, 2013

Gravity review

In space, no one can hear you scream. Those immortal words accompany the poster of one of the greatest space movies of all time, Ridley Scott's Alien. The new picture from Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity, takes that to the highest level possible. Gravity is a highly experimental science fiction film that attempts to see if a film can be carried simply be two strong performances and nothing else. Granted, Gravity does feature a third astronaut and the voice of mission control, but for the most part, it's just Sandra Bullock and George Clooney floating in space. And while the film certainly has a rough patch or two, it's an extraordinary piece of film-making, carried by the best performance of the year from Sandra Bullock. It's a film so subtle, so thrilling, so dazzlingly made, that you just can't help but overlook its flaws and love it. Gravity is awesome.

Gravity tells the story of Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). Kowalski is a veteran astronaut, who has gone on several space walks and enjoys the heck out of it. Stone is a jittery rookie scientist, who is just there to implement her knew technology on the Hubble telescope. The first fifteen minutes of the film are a look at what the astronauts are doing and then the message comes from Houston: "Mission Abort". Stone and Kowalski are left floating in space after a debris field destroys their ship. With only so little oxygen, and so little time, Stone and Kowalski have to race against time to save their lives.

Now, if you've followed any movie news in the last two months, you know that Gravity premiered at the Venice Film Festival. It received rave reviews, and then it went on to receive more praise at Telluride and Toronto. With all the hype calling it "the most groundbreaking film ever" and "the cinema of the future", there's almost no way that it can live up to the hype. And for a while, it didn't. The first fifteen minutes are breathtakingly done in one shot, but the following ten minutes feel slightly off. I had a brief panic attack. I was almost certain that I had let expectations get in the way again. But then a certain spoiler plot point happened, and suddenly the movie got a whole lot better. Not that it wasn't good before, it was just a lot better after a certain something happened.

The special effects in this film are fantastic. Technically, Gravity is a true marvel. I'm completely against visually driven films. Completely against them; they serve no purpose in the cinematic world. However, Gravity succeeds because it has a strong foundation to back it up. It knows the story it wants to tell. It's clear in its purpose. And it never falters in that aspect. However, this movie wouldn't work quite as well without the terrific special effects. They put you right in the movie. You would never guess that you're on a soundstage. Tons of props to Cuaron and his team.

Gravity is a fully realized film experience. Cuaron's direction is superb. The visual effects are almost seamless. But the film would not work without the subtle performance of Sandra Bullock, which ends up being the highlight of the film for me. Without her and Cuaron's masterful direction, Gravity is just a lot of groundbreaking special effects and a fun action movie. It's another Avatar in that case. But with Bullock's performance, Gravity is elevated to a whole different level. At first, her character comes across as weak. But you eventually come to understand her and she grows throughout the entire film. It's a magnificent character study and one that is certainly fun to watch.

Cuaron's direction is masterful. The movie starts out with a few sentences about life in space leading up to a musical crescendo. It is immediately followed by what I believe is a fifteen minute opening scene without a single cut. It's obviously drawn from Kubrick's masterwork 2001: A Space Odyssey and it's beautiful to look at. Cuaron also avoids the shaky-cam problem, but uses POV's to his advantage. They provide the audience with the feeling of truly being there, and there was one shot in which I thought my heart had stopped.

The progression of the narrative is also strong. It effectively tells the story of a character, and it does it in a way that will certainly dazzle and amaze. It shows the evolution of Dr. Stone from scene one to the final scene in a way that makes you truly appreciate all that has been done by Cuaron and his son, Jonas. They have put together a film with heart, soul and emotion that also works as an effective thrill ride. The ending is slightly (and I really do mean slightly) ambiguous, but it doesn't matter. Cuaron has ended the story of his character and doesn't need to go any further.

Now, there are some negatives. George Clooney's performance is rather lackluster. There isn't much that I found exciting or new with him, but there are a few decent things about him. His character just lacked the emotional depth of Bullock's. Also, there is a ten minute lag after the initial crash sequence which is slightly boring. A perfect movie should not be boring, even for a second. That's the only slip-up Gravity makes. Really, that is it. Other than that, it is the full and complete package. An awesome science film.

Gravity is a cinematic wonder. I will certainly be seeing it again in the theaters. Despite it's minor flaws, Gravity is a wholly enjoyable scientific thriller and one that will be remembered for years to come. It works as a drama, a thriller and a character study, all put together in one. Now, I've significantly debated what to give this movie. Because it wasn't exactly like I loved every minute of it. There were a few parts that were less than perfect. However, most of the time, Gravity is spectacular cinema, and even when it isn't great, it's still spectacular.

As you know, last week I gave my first A+ grade of the year to Ron Howard's Rush. Going into Gravity, I had that film on my mind. All in all, I didn't quite like Gravity as much as I liked Rush. So Gravity is going to get an A. It has flaws, but it is still a massive achievement and one of the very best films of the year. It is truly a unique and highly memorable cinematic experience. I remember every detail. It's a film that you experience as much as you watch and it is anchored by a spectacular performance. Gravity is something that you will remember for years to come, a true cinematic spectacle.

An A+ and an A. This Oscar season is off to a heck of a start.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                            (9.3/10)


  1. An absolute technical marvel in every way possible -- from cinematography to special effects to sound design to score, all of Gravity's technical parts work together in perfect harmony for maximum effectiveness.

  2. A marvel of performance and effect utilizing the man against his environment/survival motif to justify visual and technical elegance and brilliance.