October 6, 2013

Movie Review: Gravity (2013)

Photo: © 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

In the beginning of Alfonso Cuarón's masterful Gravity, we are greeted with the words "Life in space is impossible". For the rest of the film, Cuarón goes about disproving that statement. Not through the introduction of alien life or some fanciful terraforming of the moon. Instead, we watch someone regain the desire to live their life.

From the trailer, you know the basics of Gravity. A space mission is compromised when Russia takes down one of their satellites with a missile strike*. This causes a chain reaction and destroys hundreds of satellites, creating a debris field orbiting the Earth at mind-boggling speeds. This field impacts anything in it's path, including the only way home for Mission Commander Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and Mission Specialist Ryan Mason (Sandra Bullock). The film focuses on their efforts to get back to Earth, on their own, and running low on oxygen.

This is a movie that plays many different ways. It is a thriller (can they make it home in time?), an action film (the scenes of the debris strikes and the chaos they cause are epic and dizzying), a simple visual treat (the views of Earth from space are remarkable. But at it's core, it is an intimate character piece. Kowalski and Ryan are, apart from the opening minutes, the only people we ever see in the movie. And for long periods of time, Ryan is the only actor on the screen. It is a bold decision by Cuarón to commit so much time to only one actor, in a film that cost $80 million to make. But it works. Cuarón is a remarkable director and Gravity shows him in full command of his craft. Some of the beats may be slightly formulaic, but it never feels cheap. It never feels like he cheats to get us somewhere.

The journey of the characters and the plotting of the film are so tightly intertwined that it is near impossible to say much about Gravity without giving too much away. And the best way to approach this movie is without knowing anything. But special note must be given to Sandra Bullock for her performance. She carries this movie and does it very, very well. Her emotional journey is heartfelt and you feel it along with her. If she isn't on the short list for the Best Actress Oscar this year then something has gone very, very wrong.

Credit must also be given to the cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki, who has worked with Cuarón on Children of Men and Y Tu Mamá También. This film is mostly CGI but it is shot in a way that feels very, very real. The chaos of the debris strike sends Ryan spinning in space and you spin with her. You feel the disorientation. Other moments, when you see the Aurora Borealis over Earth, you simply gaze in wonder. Lubezki should also be up for an Oscar.

And so should Cuarón. Gravity is another wonderful film from one of the best directors working today. It is a mesmerizing, white-knuckle, emotional journey. It is the best film I have seen this year.


* This isn't a Hollywood creation to drive the plot. It actually happens. China did it in 2007 and the US did it in 2008.


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