Movie Review: ‘Gravity’

Before you begin reading there are NO SPOILERS at all in this review nor are there in-depth plot descriptions that’ll ruin any part of this film for you.  I’d advise going into this movie with as little information as possible.

Director Alfonso Cuaron

Director Alfonso Cuaron

In Hollywood there are filmmakers and there are directors.

I’m not being pretentious or trying to knock any of the directors who simply live to package together a decent product to entertain and sell some movie tickets but we of course prefer the former. They’re a group of visionary pioneers in an oftentimes increasingly stale medium that seem to get smaller and smaller every year. There are only a handful of directors who exist who to go further than they need to and don’t bother telling a story unless they truly, 110% feel that it’s worth giving to the world.  Alfonso Cuarón is a member of that unique group who’s always pushing the envelope further and bending genres wide enough to make sure everything you’ve seen of his has a personal stamp on it to call his own. Hell even his lone entry in a series of 8 Harry Potter films managed to stand out far enough from the crowd that when you’re picking them out of a lineup you can immediately notice which one is his. We’ve waited seven long, arduous years to see the follow-up to Children of Men, his science fiction gem that once again took a genre we loved and turned it over just enough to see an entirely different side. The history of Gravity’s filmmaking process is about as long and storied as the time in which it took Cuarón to get back into the directors chair, and it looked to be doomed by multiple actors and actresses leaving the titular roles. So now that it’s finally here how did it actually stand up to the immense amount of hype and increasingly growing intrigue surrounding it?  Well, I think it towers over it.

It’s moments like this that have you holding your breath throughout the entire film

I won’t go into very much detail about how the film moves along and how the characters are dissected since it’s a story that deserves to be looked at from a completely blank slate but the plot is essentially this: It follows two astronauts miles above the Earth that are set into spiraling chaos when an explosion on the shuttle forces them to go into full on survival mode.  Alone.  Drifting into space.  That’s all you really need to know about the set-up since it’s the journey that really takes prime ownership on the screen over the actual destination. The tale of these two survivors, the growth of their characters and the beautiful pallet in which they’re dancing around is what speaks to you as you’re watching.  Simply put, they’re in space, actual space. It’s not a sound-stage, it’s not a green screen, it’s not a tank of water, it’s FUCKING SPACE. Not since The Master have I really seen a movie that plays so wonderfully in an all out full frontal assault on the senses. The visuals are absolutely stunning and draw you into this vast and completely lifeless organism of emptiness, and the surprise is that it’s alive. That distant black is a character in it’s own right and becomes much more than the setting of a movie it’s based in. The use of sound mixing and audible frequencies not only put you into the mindset of these survivors but creep into the annals of your brain and become something that’s living and breathing amongst you. I can’t really understate how this movie took such standard and everyday moments and helped them become so much more that that.  Even the music used in the movie was so perfectly balanced with a score that builds audibly as the tension mounts and the overall feeling of the moment is pouring out onto the screen.  This was one of the better original film scores I’ve heard and most definitely struck a simplistic tone that worked hand in hand with the varying set-pieces. Once again this was Alfonso Cuaron turning a genre over ever so slightly and showing us a completely different side that we never knew existed.  He unearths almost every bit of fear you either knew you had or didn’t know you could feel until you stepped inside the movie theater.  Watching him toy with your emotions through the experiences of the characters on screen is something almost devilishly wrong as he knows he’s in full command throughout the entire ride.  It’s like watching a master honing his craft and bringing out every single trick he’s every learned to literally show you a visual extravaganza that won’t leave your mind for hours, days or even weeks.

Cuaron preys on fears you never knew you had

As far as the cast goes you have two of the more established Oscar winning members of Hollywood’s elite who take front and center as the figurative guide for the audience to hold onto.  Sandra Bullock reaches into the depths of her soul to pull off a career-defining performance that’ll have her rightfully standing alongside the heavyweight contenders this coming awards season. She’s the anchor of this movie in every way you want a lifeline in the vast reaches of space to be for your audience. She’s broken, she’s distraught, she’s exasperated and she’s fighting for her life from the moment the film opens up on her operating on a satellite in space to the final, symbolic frame.  It’s the smaller parts of her performance that bring out the balanced realism of her situation like the tensed vocal pitch of her voice that’s almost annoyed and distressed rather than frightened and alone.   Sandra Bullock has taken a lot of heat over the years (and much of that from me) but there’s absolutely no denying that she brought the house down like a warrior woman who grabbed this role by the throat and absolutely slayed it.  While she’s definitely the focal point and the one most talked about in the movie you also get George Clooney in a supportive, almost fatherly role that so perfectly fits his current description.  He’s the vocal and mental leader of the two who’s own cryptically soothing, calming voice is the perfect counterbalance to the stressed out nature of Bullock’s character.  Their chemistry is one of the crucial parts of the experience and nailing it was important to not just the arc of Bullocks’ character but for the audience as well.  We had to buy that these two have been together every single day for months at a time training, living and just existing as a pair that learned to thrive and cope with one another, and thankfully they came through in spades.

Bullock and Clooney are figuratively on an island in this movie

Bullock and Clooney are on their own

Watching Gravity on an IMAX 3D screen and being fully immersed in this stunning experience made me simply think of why I love movies.  It’s everything filmmaking should strive to be and it represents all that we ask for when we go to the cinema.  It’s a groundbreaking event both visually and stylistically that took bold, calculated risks to bring us something we haven’t actually seen before, and isn’t that what going to the movies is all about? I mean yeah, there are flaws in the screenplay and certain scenes linger so maybe it won’t claim the throne come Oscar season and be called the “be all end all” movie of 2013. Maybe it won’t grace the syllabus of film classes around the globe years from now and maybe you won’t find the same things I did when you do give it a watch but what it will do is become a three dimensional way of stepping inside of a theater screen.  It’s a film that I truly believe all movie fans should at least venture off to check out in order to decide if it’s something for them or if it isn’t. Because while it isn’t a perfect movie it’s as close to a uniquely perfect movie experience as you’re gonna get, and there just isn’t anything like it out there right now.  10/10