After debris from a satellite knocks out their communications with Earth, astronauts Kowalski (George Clooney) and Dr. Stone (Sandra Bullock) are left to their own devices in the cold black of space.
Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity is a film like no other. It is an intense ride, not for the faint of heart, that is thrilling, heartbreaking, and moving all rolled into a package that defies any expectations you may have. Never has a movie made me want to be an astronaut less than this film. It is a terrifying ride that pulls no punches and it had a profound impact on me as I sat in the darkened theater watching it. My pulse began racing. I found myself crying. I was on the edge of my seat. It is a profoundly moving piece of cinema that does not play by the conventional rules of cinema and we are all the more blessed that we have this film from such a master director as Cuaron.
The story is bare bones, which is the first rule this film throws out the window; that the story needs to be somewhat complex. Basically, Dr. Stone is being escorted by veteran astronaut Kowalski as she installs a prototype device on a satellite. Out of the blue, they are notified there is a debris field heading their way when the Russians destroy one of their spy satellites. That debris field wipes out many other satellites and the debris crashes into the satellite Stone is working on. It then becomes a fight for survival as Stone and Kowalski are the only people left alive in space and all communications with Earth have been severed by the destruction of the satellites.
The second rule the film throws out is characterization. The characters of Stone and Kowalski are not explored prior to the action beginning. And it doesn’t matter. You learn about them as the action unfolds. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Under the nuanced direction of Cuaron, you learn more about these characters as human beings than in most other dramatic films where the actors try almost too hard to make them well rounded, real characters. Here, we have emotion and action and a little bit of character development. Very little. But you find that you do care about them and the struggles they are going through to survive.
The one thing you will not notice, though, is the excessive use of special effects. Honestly, I felt that this film was actually filmed in space, but, of course, it was not. You won’t realize it as you watch the film though. Through extensive use of near flawless CGI and the extremely brilliant performance of Sandra Bullock, you will find that you don’t even think about how they managed to make the film feel so real. This is a film that actually transports you outside of our reality. Unless you are an actual astronaut, this is the most realistic (feeling) film about space ever made.
So, what is space? It is a whole bunch of nothing. Cuaron manages to make a whole bunch of nothing but space feel claustrophobic. This is a magnificent feat in itself. And it is terrifying. Honestly, this is one of the scariest films I have ever seen and it is not a horror film.
In hands less capable than Cuaron’s, this film could have been a huge disaster. As it sits, though, this is electrifying, moving cinema that demands to be seen on the big screen. It is a work of such profound beauty, such cold elemental beauty, that it is awe inspiring in the truest sense of the word. It is such a primal piece of filmmaking that your heart will break and it will bring tears to your eyes. It is, by far, the best film I have seen all year. I am still flabbergasted that it actually worked.
Much of the film rests solely on Sandra Bullocks capable shoulders. She has never been better and deserves the Academy Award for her performance. Not just a nomination, she deserves the gold. No performance by an actress has ever moved me like her performance here did.
I cannot heap more praises on this film. It demands to be seen in the theater. It is a magical film, even though it is not for the faint of heart. It is a terrifying trip that you must take, just be prepared. I cannot recommend this film more highly. I have never wanted to be an astronaut less than I do after watching this film.
**** out of ****
Bizzam!! Fun Facts
- Angelina Jolie refused the role of Dr. Stone. . .twice. The role was then offered to Natalie Portman who dropped out right before she announced her pregnancy.
- Robert Downey Jr. was originally cast as Kowalski but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts.
- Alfonso Cuaron directed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
- Cuaron also directed my favorite sci-fi film of all time, the underrated Children of Men.