It’s not every day that a movie storms onto the screen and, in a relatively-short 90 minutes, leaves you completely spellbound. In fact, there is nothing ordinary about Gravity, which is damn near perfect.
Disaster strikes within 10 minutes. In another 20 minutes, Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are the sole survivors of their mission on the Hubble Telescope. The two are stranded in outer space with no means of transport, no communication with Earth and a rapidly dwindling oxygen supply. From there, director Alfonso Cuarón does what seems impossible: he only heightens the tension. To call Gravity an adrenaline rush would be both a terrific cliché and an epic understatement.
Cuarón has re-created outer space here as no one has ever done before and the camera relishes in the sheer size of the black mass Bullock and Clooney drift through. The camera shifts between the inescapable peril of our stranded astronauts and the beauty of their backdrop: an endless mass of blackness and stars and our Earth, big, beautiful and just out of reach for Kowalski and Stone, who soon finds herself completely alone. As she struggles to find a way back to solid ground, the camera almost never holds still. Cuarón, who specializes in long takes, relishes them here. This is the rare film that the extra price of a 3D ticket is completely worth it. Using revolutionary filmmaking techniques, Cuarón has created an entirely immersive experience. It would be a disservice to yourself to see it on anything other than the largest screen available to you.
Gravity lives or dies by Sandra Bullock who appears in nearly every single frame. Her role is the holy trinity of emotional, physical and psychological and from somewhere within her, Bullock pulls out a performance that proves she is at the top of her game. Her first Oscar win for The Blind Side may have been slightly controversial, but her second win will not be. Bullock is absolutely spellbinding in this performance, even more impressive considering she spent almost every take strung up on an elaborate wire system, designed to mimic space’s zero gravity environment.
If there’s one sour note in the film, it is the screenplay, which was co-writen by Cuarón and his son Jonás Cuarón. For a movie that feels so completely revolutionary, its script often veers into the realm of the hokey. In particular, the line “I hate space” comes off as an almost screwball-style understatement as Stone has just survived a meteor shower of satellite debris. However, Bullock makes it work for the most part and given the level of brilliant tension Cuarón creates, it takes a lot more than nervous audience laughter to pull you out of the film.
In space, no one can hear you scream, Alien taught us. And Gravity captures the terrifying silence of space with aplomb. The quiet is almost deafeningly frightening, the film’s loudest moments are almost comforting; loudness is, at least, familiar. The score is bold and revolutionary, unlike anything I’ve ever heard in a film. Relying on heavy, industrial sounds, there is a sense of foreboding in each masterfully crafted shot. Together, each element has created a marvel of modern filmmaking. It’s a rare, genre-defining piece of genius and, dare I use another cliché, a must-see.