As a film critic, I’m seldom surprised by what any particular movie throws my way. Having seen thousands of movies, it’s rare that a film truly offers something new. When one does, I've learned to appreciate it all the more.
Gravity is that kind of movie. There have been plenty of movies, mostly of the sci-fi variety, that take place in outer space, but I can say with near certainty that there has never been one that illuminates the terrifying vastness of that realm the way Gravity does.
We get to experience that feeling thanks to a tragic accident that sets astronauts Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) adrift from the space shuttle Explorer, which was on a mission to repair the Hubble telescope.
If George Clooney is the occasional comic relief, Sandra Bullock is the film’s heart and soul.
There’s little you can say about the rest of the film without spoiling its surprises except that the 90-minute film is unfathomably harrowing, intense and emotional, especially if you’re fortunate enough to see it in all-encompassing IMAX 3D. Writer/director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) has framed the film in such a way that the audience is right there in space along with the characters.
As Stone spins, you feel yourself getting dizzy. As astronauts desperately try to dodge space junk, you find yourself ducking in your seat. And, most vividly, as Stone and Kowalski try to get back to some semblance of safety, the enormity of space threatens to take your breath away at any second.
Hardly a scene goes by without getting some kind of glimpse of Earth, but its proximity only serves to underscore how far away it - and the safety it provides - is for these characters. It’s at once beautiful to see the familiar countries from above, and heartbreaking knowing that there are precious few options for these astronauts to ever set foot on that ground again.
Because the characters almost never get a break from their predicament, neither does the audience. Cuaron famously used single-shot sequences in Children of Men; although it’s clear that this film is almost entirely CGI and therefore it would be impossible to replicate such scenes, there are times when minutes drag by before there’s any kind of breather whatsoever.
The movie's few moments of levity come courtesy of Clooney. His public persona is goofy nonchalance, a trait that could be used to describe Kowalski as well. A veteran of many space missions, Kowalski never misses a chance to make a light-hearted comment or three, even when things seem to be at their most desperate. Clooney’s soothing acting helps keep Stone — and the audience — calm when we need it most.
If Clooney is the occasional comic relief, Bullock is the film’s heart and soul. For all the technical wizardry the film exhibits, if she doesn’t deliver a convincing performance, the rest of the film is for naught. Bullock is more than up to the task, making Stone authentic and approachable even when she’s constrained by a bulky spacesuit.
Movie magic is a term that’s thrown around way too often, but if there were any movie to which it applies, Gravity is it. I have almost no clue how Cuaron and his team were able to accomplish the things that they did, but I am enormously grateful for having had the chance to experience their genius. It’s a film that makes you realize just how great and transporting movies can be, and one that deserves every award that is sure to come its way.