“Gravity” marks director, writer and producer Alfonso Cuarón’s first film since 2006’s soul-wrenching “Children of Men,” in which humans are plagued with sterility in a war-torn world. Though the subject matter is vastly different, Cuarón continues to instill emotionally draining cinema into viewers with “Gravity,” which premiered this weekend. Already one of the biggest October openings on record, the film takes a similar toll on viewers as “Children of Men” did by focusing on character development, this time thousands of miles above the earth’s surface.
Anyone who ever dreamed of being an astronaut will likely change their minds after experiencing “Gravity.”
The film acts as a real-time account of Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock, “The Heat”) working on upgrading the Hubble Space Telescope with her colleague, retiring astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney, “The Descendants”). Russian efforts to remove a satellite with rockets create a massive cloud of debris. The cloud catches up to Kowalski and Stone’s shuttle and sends both hurtling off the structure. Kowalski, with his propulsion pack, somehow finds Stone spinning in orbit, managing to attach her to himself before they venture off to the only structure left: the International Space Station.
This sounds like a massive stretch: “Gravity” makes it seem that as long as someone has a means of propelling themself, cruising around up there is no big deal. Needless to say, the science behind “Gravity” is not solid. There are numerous articles detailing the accuracy of every scientific fact surrounding the film. The film also ignores most of the real-world implication of the incident at hand; How badly would the U.N. sanction Russia for destroying all space-based communications systems and thereby killing several astronauts? Will space travel ever be safe again? But that’s not what “Gravity” is really about. The film is about Dr. Stone and her struggle to survive the impossible while everything is telling her to give up. While those political questions may be running through some viewers’ heads as they sit in theaters, on the screen Dr. Stone is tumbling and grasping at orbital structures to save her life. And so, empathy prevails.
Stone is alone for most of the film, so Bullock almost solely takes the acting spotlight. Those who saw the film’s trailer and thought “Gravity” would be a Bullock scream-fest can rest easy; Stone is a strong character when the circumstances call on her. Kowalski, utilizing Clooney’s calming tone of voice and humor, grounds Stone, allowing her to think clearly and act quickly. Bullock portrays Stone as a wounded genius, whose deep personal scars must be overcome in the most trying environment.
There’s only a handful of scenes throughout “Gravity.” Cuarón is known for using continuous shots, and “Gravity” exemplifies this trait to the extreme. The first scene, in which Stone and Kowalski are propelled into free orbit, is an extended long take. With the combination of breathtaking CGI, it’s easy to go through the entire film without feeling the disturbance of editing.
Even with sensitive, emotional cinematography in most shots, the one Achilles’ heel in “Gravity” is its camera angles. While aesthetically pleasing overall, the camera angles change inconsistently throughout. In a scene, the camera could be tastefully showing Stone and Kowalski falling over the Nile. Then, in a split-second change, viewers are placed in Bullock’s helmet without transition. It is chaotic, and may very well be intentional, but it breaks the film’s otherwise meticulous flow. Camerawork eventually normalizes and, by the overwhelming finale, keeps viewers engaged.
“Gravity” is a personification of fragility and strength of humanity told through Bullock’s character. By the middle of the film, it would be easy for Stone to just give up and follow her line, “I hate space,” with sitting back and waiting for the cloud of debris to take her. But she doesn’t. Cuarón sticks to what he knows best in filmmaking and showcases his strengths in the chair-clutching thriller “Gravity.”
4 out of 5 stars