A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.
In all the years I’ve watched and reviewed movies it’s rare that I find a film that manages to hit all the right notes perfectly. That one movie that blends story, character, spectacle, acting, direction, music, among other things into a truly beautiful work of art that not only entertains but dares you to think, not just about itself, but yourself as well. It’s such a rarity, especially in this day and age where sequels and remakes are the norm, that when I do find such a film, I make it a point to share the film with everyone I know. So when I say that Alfonso Cuaron’s latest film Gravity is the best film I’ve seen all year I truly, wholeheartedly, mean it. When I say that you should stop reading this review and go see the movie for yourself, if you haven’t already seen it, then go see this movie. Now.
Still here? Well then lets get on with the review.
The single most fascinating thing about Gravity is that, on the most basic level, it is a simple space disaster film. It could have easily been a brainless action-thriller about trying to survive in the most inhospitable environment imaginable, a film more focused on throwing action setpiece after setpiece with little to no real substance to back them up. However, the film manages to be more thanks to its amazing mix of writing, directing, acting, and music. All of which manage to elevate the film beyond most films into a genuine work of art.
The film follows rookie astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) as she fights to survive in space after her crew’s space shuttle is bombarded by a field of debris from a destroyed satellite. With the help of veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) the two must find a way to get back to Earth before their suits’ air supply runs out. Again, the premise is a simple one: a struggle for survival in space, the most inhospitable environment known to man. It’s a situation where you have no control whatsoever and nothing is more terrifying than that. Therein lies one of the many strengths in the film. Stone is someone completely relatable to the audience. She isn’t a trained astronaut like Kowalski who happily cracks jokes while zipping around in his prototype jetpack while Stone struggles to keep from vomiting in her suit every time she has to move in zero gravity. Through her we experience the peril of being trapped in space with no hope of rescue and every time she must navigate her way though the void you can feel your heart pounding through your chest.
Surprisingly enough, the plot is actually rather predictable with Stone and Kowalski jumping from one major space disaster to another, but thanks to some very expert execution these scenes feel fresh and you can’t help but dig your nails into the armrests of your seat as you are taken along for the ride. In the back of your mind you know how things will play out, you know who will die and who will live, but it really doesn’t matter. The film manages to be so thrilling and suspenseful you sometimes find yourself forgetting about the tropes and just letting the film pull you along. Usually when a film is called an experience I find the description unwarranted, but for Gravity this movie is surely fitting of being called an experience.
When it comes to the film’s two leads, both Bullock and Clooney deliver some of the best performances I have seen from both actors in recent years. Clooney’s Kowalski is pure charisma and never stops being likable thanks to some really fun dialogue and his big grin in the face of this terrifying situation he finds himself in. It’s clear from the very start of the movie that he’s been on more than a few space missions, with this one being his last before retirement, as he casually drifts through space like its nothing while the other crew members are marveling at being in space. He’s the foil to Bullock’s character, Stone, who seems like she’s more interested in getting her job done and heading home before she loses her lunch at the start of the film. Bullock’s performance here is amazing, adding so much depth to her character as she goes through this terrifying ordeal.
It is, ultimately, Stone’s story of choosing whether to live or die not just in this situation but in life overall. Her transformation throughout the film is a beautiful one that anchors the film and helps it transcend beyond other films and it is thanks to Bullock that the film achieves this. And on a more lighter note, Ed Harris stars as the voice of mission control proving once and for all that he has forever been typecast as the guy who monitors every space disaster.
One of the defining aspects of the film is how gorgeous it is. Cuaron manages to capture the beauty of space while not romanticizing it at the same time. The vast emptiness of space is awe inspiring and the view of the Earth is wondrous to behold, but at the same time it’s unforgiving and relentlessly dangerous.
The cinematography is masterful here with long stretches of uninterrupted sequences making up a majority of the film where the camera effortlessly moves about the scene as Stone struggles to move about in the environment. On occasion the camera will actually merge with Stone’s own perspective inside her helmet and we are given a sense of claustrophobia in spite of the vastness of space. It actually feels like the film was shot in zero gravity, all thanks to the amazing camerawork. However, the special effects in the film are also amazing in that they perfectly complement the film, expertly weaving themselves into the story instead of bringing you out of it. The effects further the illusion that this is set in space and, despite a few occasions where actual physics take a back seat to storytelling, the illusion is never broken.
Another notable aspect about the visuals in this movie is the 3D. Normally, I’d consider having to see a film in 3D a misfortune, but here it is an opportunity. I had the opportunity to see Gravity in IMAX 3D and it is truly worth seeing the film like this at least once. The 3D really does add another layer of depth to things and is really nice to look at. In spite of a few instances where the film “pokes the audience,” like a loose bolt flying towards the screen and a few instances where tons of objects are hurled in front of your face, the 3D really complements the film. Do you really need to see the film in 3D? No, not at all. If I had to recommend a format for you to see this movie it’d be in IMAX, a regular theater just doesn’t do this movie justice.
As the film is set in space a lot of the action is silent. When chunks of debris rip through the space shuttle everything is eerily muted. The most you’ll ever hear is some muffled bumps as characters interact with objects, as if we were hearing things from their point of view. As a result, the soundtrack is used to help emphasize events as they unfold. Steven Price masterfully captures both the chaotic and somber moments in the film, while also helping emphasize the actions taking place. The best scene, and in my opinion the best setpiece in the film, has Stone working on something while, in the background, debris utterly destroys everything around her and the music seamlessly complements it, feeling both intense while also managing to replace the sounds of pure destruction perfectly.
Put all these together and you have a truly wonderful film that pulls you in and provides you with a thrilling experience. While the story may seem simple and predictable it manages to be completely thrilling from beginning to end. The acting is superb with both George Clooney and Sandra Bullock delivering truly spectacular performances. The cinematography and special effects come together to create an amazing atmosphere that is as stunning as it is terrifying. Even the 3D effects manage to add depth to the movie, though the film does go overboard with the effect in some places. The soundtrack is epic while also helping carry the film due to a lack of sound in space. It is, without a doubt, a beautiful film and a true work of art.