The gripping Gravity proves space is the final and most dangerous frontier.
The beauty and thrill of discovery involved in space travel is matched only by its inherent potential for dramatic loss of life, as evidenced by the tragedies of Challenger and Columbia. Director Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity takes us through just such a disaster, creating both a thrilling and cautionary tale that will either inspire or make you nervous each time you fly.
Astronauts Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are busy space-walking around the Space Shuttle Explorer when the ship is struck and destroyed by a dead Russian spy satellite. Their only hope is to make it to the International Space Station, which Stone finds has been abandoned, with its only functioning escape craft damaged. As secrets are revealed about the duo, one must make the ultimate sacrifice so that the other may live, paving the way for a gripping end to what was supposed to be a nice walk around Planet Earth.
This is a two-person show, with Clooney and Bullock as the only actors, minus the voice of Mission Control, played by The Right Stuff's Ed Harris. They survive each debris storm, which seems to grow in intensity and size, while constantly running out of oxygen or dealing with fires in space. It would have been less effective had Gravity been told from Clooney's perspective, or had the hero been a man. That's not to say women are less likely to survive a space disaster of this scale, but the perceived frailty of women and instinctual survival are played up here, resulting in either modest failure or total success. It's merely by luck that Bullock emerges as the lone survivor, but what of her life afterwards? Clooney has more incentive to return home - to the life of a bar-hopping astronaut - than Bullock, whose loss of her daughter years before has left her with nothing but quiet car drives after work. That's not something to look forward to, especially since Cuarón makes such a big deal of this perceived dysfunction once the action ramps up. Gravity is less about the future than surviving the present, with our heroine reacting to circumstances and less about how those change her. Once she's home, it's back to that quiet car ride. Lame.
Clooney is the master of the understated performance, with his dry veneer and aging good looks guaranteed to keep women focused until his untimely departure. By then, we've already focused onto Bullock, whose realitstic portrayal lends incredible reality to the role. A lot has been made about their public relationship, and whether Clooney influenced the selection process; regardless, she turns in an amazing performance that could see her nab an Oscar nomination. But this is Cuarón's baby, and he delivers it with amazing vision and excellent camerawork by Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Both seem to understand the backdrop of space as both amazingly dangerous and yet filled with incredible beauty and untapped power. Man is merely a grain of sand in that great vacuum, and Cuarón - who co-wrote this with his brother Jonás - adds the right mix of human drama and space-scale epic to the screen. The result may convince you to either become an astronaut, or swear never to fly again.
Some people classify 'good film' as something you can watch more than once, because you always find a new angle or background action you missed the first time. Gravity is hard to place into this neat box, because its novelty wears off once the credits start rolling. That doesn't mean you shouldn't see it. but you might be dissuaded from purchasing it on Blu-ray once it becomes available. Nevertheless, Gravity proves that space is both the final and most dangerous frontier man will ever face. Bullock re-assumes her position as a top-tier veteran, while Clooney continues to prove that his appearance in a film - whether short or long - makes everything he touches that much better. If you have issues with vertigo, I'd discourage you from seeing it in IMAX, based on our feelings of vertigo at a 3D standard theater. Either way, it's a film you'll only want to watch once - make the most of it. Gravity is rated PG-13 for language, creepy country music in space, and has a runtime of 90 minutes.
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