Gravity is pure, unfiltered cinema as a visual experience, plain and simple. This is, on a technical level at least, THE finest achievement of 2013. As a film on the whole, it’s not flawless, but the techs are beyond stunning. From the cinematography to the editing even to the 3D (not to mention the score), it’s brilliant. Filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón has crafted something very special here. Along with his son Jonas as a co-writer, Cuarón has found a way to do original science fiction and do it really well. Of course, without the lead performance of Sandra Bullock and the supporting turn from George Clooney that we have on hand, this would be a hollow visual treat with no emotional resonance. Luckily, Bullock and Clooney knock this out of the park, both giving nomination worth performances. Cuarón himself is the MVP of the flick though in terms of his direction (the script isn’t on the same level, which is why I’m not going four stars here), which is easily one of the best jobs of the year. My press screening was held in IMAX 3D, and folks that is the ideal way to see this. You really get lost in space alongside the pair. Trust me, you won’t want to let go of this one. It’s one of the year’s best.
After a brief bit of text informing us of just how impossible it is to survive in space, we meet the two NASA employees who we’ll be following. Both medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) and astronaut Matt Kowalski (Clooney) are working on repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope when an unplanned disaster strikes. A Russian satellite has been destroyed and the debris is racing towards their ship. After it hits, they are the only survivors and are left with a crippled ship. The damage is immense, but even worse are the long odds that Stone and Kowalski are faced with. She’s new to space and emotionally fragile at the start, while he is a veteran on his last mission (and actually about to fall just shy of the record for most time spent on spacewalks), so it falls on the latter to mentor the former. Kowalski can’t do it on his own though, so Stone will have to step up if they ever want to make it back home. The film isn’t long, but holy crap is it intense. I literally believe that it couldn’t have been any longer or our systems might not have been able to take it.
This isn’t a big cast, but both of the main characters are very memorable. This is definitely Sandra Bullock’s career best work, while George Clooney turns in one of his best supporting performances to date. The film really does live or die based on Bullock, so it’s essential that you not long for one of the other actresses that were in contention for the part (though I could certainly argue that some of them would have done similarly strong jobs) as things focus in on her. There are some great layers to her performance and the character has a true narrative arc that’s enhanced by her work. Something similar goes for Clooney, but to a lesser extent. Both are only given so much to work with from the script, but Clooney especially uses the audience’s perception of him to inform the character. Any of the few light moments in the flick are due to him. As good as Robert Downey Jr. might have been in this part, I think Clooney was even better. The only other cast member of note is Ed Harris, who lends his voice to mission control. This is all about Bullock and Clooney though, with the former leading the way.
I don’t know that I’ve seen better direction this year than what’s on hand from Alfonso Cuarón in Gravity. The co-writer/director easily tops his work in Children of Men here, staging some incredible shots. The opening single take is breathtaking, the integration of the effects with the overall visuals is perfect, and not a moment goes by where you don’t fully believe that this is being shot in deep space. The directing is four stars all the way (so is the work by DP Emmanuel Lubezki, who deserves to finally win an Oscar for this), but the screenplay itself is closer to three stars, resulting in this non perfect score. Father and son Cuarón have come up with a solid story, added in solid plot elements, satisfying beats, and serviceable dialogue. The thing is, nothing in the script is special. This is an ordinary bit of writing made extraordinary by the directing skill of the elder Cuarón. I don’t mean to rag on Jonas Cuarón, but his father just did the better work here. Especially in terms of one third act moment involving Bullock and Clooney that I won’t spoil, I wasn’t wild about some of the writing decisions. It’s a small complaint, but it’s what keeps me from declaring this perhaps the best movie of the year.
Awards wise, it’s all become possible for Gravity. A bunch of technical categories are all but locks (with Best Visual Effects probably a sure winner and Cinematography all dependent on if Lubezki can finally win), and in the main categories it’s hard to see this not getting Best Picture/Director nods. Bullock is heavily in play for Actress, while the screenplay has a solid shot at a nom too. If the Academy loves it, don’t count out Clooney either in Supporting Actor. I adored the score by Steven Price and would love to see it get in, but I wonder if it could suffer from underuse. We shall see there…
Overall, Gravity will plain and simple take your breath away. It’s what all blockbusters should aspire to be. Beautiful, sometimes thought provoking, and always exciting, this is for grown ups what Avatar was for teens. I especially loved that this flick knew just how to use 3D, since we know that doesn’t happen often. Gravity is a must see, but I’m sure you all were seeing it anyway. It’s one of my ten favorites of the year so far, and I suspect many of you will feel the same way in the very near future…
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!