Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Premise: A pair of astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) become stranded in space when debris destroys their space shuttle.
What Works: Gravity is an example of a relatively simple story tapped for all of its potential and executed with great technical mastery. The result is a very exciting and satisfying motion picture that combines the intelligence and creativity of an art house picture with the thrills of a studio blockbuster. That combination isn’t so surprising given that Gravity was directed by Alfonso Cuarón who had shown the same kind of balance of artistic and commercial qualities in previous movies like Children of Men and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Gravity takes some of the stylistic and technical flourishes of Cuarón’s previous films and expands them, especially in the editing. This is a very well shot and assembled movie and although it is made of different takes and shots the film is so cleverly assembled that the entire picture takes on a seamless look. The story of Gravity is minimal but that works for this film. Plot twists and elaborate character pieces would be contrived and distracting and the filmmakers of Gravity are ruthlessly focused on the predicament of the astronauts. What the filmmakers contribute to the film in place of plot is inventive escalation. The astronauts have a very simple goal: to survive in an environment that is incapable of supporting life and in their struggle they face one complication after another. Given the fast paced nature of the movie, it would seem natural that characterization would be secondary and that the acting performances would be an afterthought to the special effects but nothing could be further from the case. In fact, actress Sandra Bullock gives one of the best performances of her career in Gravity even though for a great deal of the movie she is the only person on screen. Films like this one, in which the lead actor is also the only performer, is the ultimate test of a thespian’s chops and the success of the movie will often depend on his or her ability to be continually engaging. Bullock accomplishes that in this film and she not only carries most of the movie but imbues it with a humanity that contrasts with the coldness of the rest of the picture. Gravity is a survival story and the combination of Bullock’s performance with the indifference of outer space elevates this film beyond its immediate circumstances. Some movies about mankind’s conflict with the elements are simply adventure stories but others manage to put humanity in its place in relation to nature. Gravity recalls movies like The Grey and Open Water in its stark depiction of life. But there is also a beauty about this film and the tension between the coldness and the beauty recalls the success of Life of Pi. Like that film, Gravity is a movie that depicts humanity’s struggle to survive against a portrayal of nature that is simultaneously merciless and awe inspiring. That tension gives this movie a holistic quality that is life affirming without being sentimental.
What Doesn’t: Gravity does suffer from a few small inconsistencies like why Bullock’s character, who is a medical professional, is working on the Hubble telescope and some questionable science with regard to the physics of certain scenes. These are not the kinds of errors that are obvious while watching it and they rarely, if ever, detract from the enjoyment or coherence of the film. Gravity has a thin story; it is more of a premise than a plot. But this is actually to the film’s benefit and Gravity manages to be an example of the possibilities of cinema, in that it is able to be continually interesting based solely on its imagery.
Bottom Line: Gravity is an extraordinarily well made film. On a technical level it is nearly flawless and the performance by Sandra Bullock is exceptional. Just as impressive, the filmmakers take a simple idea and extrapolate it into an enlightening and provocative piece of cinema.
Episode: #461 (October 20, 2013)