Film Review: Gravity

by Chad Liffmann on October 4, 2013

An exhilarating, suspenseful, emotional thrill ride unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

Sandra Bullock takes on the universe in Gravity.

Sandra Bullock takes on the universe in Gravity.

It’s hard to describe Gravity without using a superfluous amount of positive adjectives.  The action drama directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambien)is a somewhat simple story of two astronauts who are marooned after their craft is left battered and adrift after being struck by debris from a botched Russian satellite dismantling.   The film is more complex than that though, tapping into an unimaginable terror unlike any film has done before.  It’s nice to have a visual spectacle of this magnitude also feature incredible performances.   The visuals can only bring the audience in so far, but the stellar performances by George Clooney and, especially, Sandra Bullock help seal the deal.  I can’t stress this enough — you are PULLED into this movie and firmly grasped for 90+ minutes!  You won’t believe the wizardry of what you see on screen.  And you won’t be able to shake the emotions for a while.

At the heart of Gravity is the continuous sense of being trapped in unfathomably catastrophic predicaments that are completely devoid of hope for survival.  Yet the characters strive to stay alive, battling the nature of fear itself.  It’s that ultimate feeling of helplessness that Gravity depicts so well.  The movie can be uncomfortable for some.  It’s eerie and suspenseful, and only once or twice does it let you briefly gasp for breath.  But some of Gravity‘s power comes from the efforts of the human spirit.  It sounds lame, I know, but when depicted in such a manner as in Gravity, you can’t avoid feeling some amount of inner strength as you cheer on the characters.  That is, of course, when you’re not feeling utterly powerless and pessimistic.  So yes, Gravity will, equally, make you feel as insignificant and weak as can be.  We sense the dread Bullock’s character feels as she tumbles through space without a shred of hope.  We are only human and have our natural limitations, but we are also accustomed to, very rarely, experiencing miraculous happenings and having unexpected triumphs take place, and so to watch events unfold in the style of Gravity may severely challenge us, but we are never completely lost.

If you’ve watched a few of Cuarón’s movies before, Children of Men in particular, you know that he has a knack for extended takes.  Well, Gravity opens with a ~17 minute single shot that you’ll probably have to re-watch a few times just to believe it because its complexity is handled so seamlessly.  That can be said for the entire film, which I’d recommend you see in 3-D and on the biggest screen size possible.  The 3-D is not a gimmick here.  It adds to the spacial structure of the film.  It gives weight to the vastness of empty space around the characters, and to the exploding parts of satellites and stations around them.  I’d confidently say that it’s the most appropriate and exciting use of 3-D I’ve ever seen.

In Gravity, things get super cray cray!

In Gravity, things get super cray cray!

There’s little doubt that Gravity will win its fair share of accolades this awards season.  It should.  It deserves them.  Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki deserves a handful, for sure.  The long takes, the pushes and pulls in focus, and the effortless camera maneuvers from twirling in the blackness of space to being inside the helmet of Bullock’s character are all astounding.  There are too many instances of “how the f— did they do that!?’ to count.  Cuarón’s direction is impeccable.  And Bullock’s performance won’t go unnoticed as well.  Her performance is the crucial element that delivers the drama.  Even though Gravity isn’t like Avatar at all, audiences will still have that sense of awe and wonder as they see these revolutionary visuals.  Unlike Avatar, though, word-of-mouth won’t be about how the special effects were amazing but the actors were like cardboard cutouts.  The acting in Gravity is top-notch, with the two leads carefully balancing their potentially distracting star power with their character’s confrontations with death.

Hollywood should take notice.  There will always be a welcome place for the special-effects laden blockbuster with somewhat lackluster performances or recycled story, but to really change the game, a movie needs to fire on all cylinders.  Gravity accomplishes that.  It’s the first absolutely must-see movie of the year.

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Gravity opens in Bay Area theaters today, October 4th.

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