Cast: George Clooney, Sandra Bullock
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
What links many of the greatest films ever made is their ability to transport the viewer to a different time and place, and, in the case of some films, to an entirely new universe. Not since James Cameron's Avatar in 2009 have I enjoyed an experience as immersive as Gravity. Achieved by seamlessly merging live action with the most advanced visual effects technology especially developed for this film, Gravity takes us to outer space in a way that no movie has before.
"You have to admit one thing; you can't beat the view," George Clooney's seasoned spaceman Matt Kowalsky announces early on in the film, bobbing and floating against a breathtaking expanse, as his rookie partner, Sandra Bullock's Ryan Stone, attends to a mechanical problem on the Hubble Space Telescope. When oncoming debris from a Russian satellite explosion destroys their shuttle, the two astronauts become stranded in space.
Using his camera masterfully, Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron takes us to the heart of the action as if we're experiencing it ourselves. When Bullock's harness snaps and she begins spinning uncontrollably, expect to feel overcome by nausea. When she's struggling to hold on to a corner or a ledge of the shuttle even as she's floating away from it, more than likely you'll be digging your nails into the armrest, panicking for her safety.
As anyone who's watched his terrific 2006 film Children of Men will tell you, Cuaron isn't afraid of shooting long fluid takes. The film's 13-minute opening scene (during which we're even briefly introduced to an Indian astronaut, Sharif, humming "Mera joota hai Japani") is nothing short of a marvel, as is at least one other soundless scene that nicely demonstrates Bullock's isolation. Stunning sequences in which our protagonists navigate space in zero gravity are further enhanced by the filmmaker's intelligent use of 3D.
If anything feels clunky here, it's Bullock's sentimental back-story involving a dead child, that's likely revealed in order to wring every possible drop of sympathy for the character. Alas it wasn't required! Her effort to survive this hostile terrain is enough by itself to generate genuine drama. Bullock, in fact, is in excellent form, meeting the film's intense physical demands and taking the character's emotional journey in equal stride. Clooney, meanwhile, turns on the charm as the wisecracking astronaut, his confidence and calmness a nice foil to Bullock's permanently tense demeanor.
For all its slick technical wizardry, Gravity is about hope and courage and the will to come out alive. To best enjoy it, go in with patience and an open mind. I'm going with four-and-a-half out of five.
Rating: 4.5 / 5