Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Review: "Gravity"

Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity is a visually stunning masterpiece. All the hype surrounding its premiere at Venice and at TIFF is incredibly well deserved. The ten minute one-shot opening sequence is entirely breathtaking. It is a space film, but it does not have the heft of Stanley Kubrick's groundbreaking 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey or even Duncan Jones' criminally underrated 2009 film Moon, which stars Sam Rockwell. Like Moon, Gravity depends wholly on the performance of one actor: Sandra Bullock. She is being widely tipped as a sure bet for an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. She offers a decent performance, but most of the tension is created by Cuarón's terrific CGI effects. During a quiet moment of the film, I sat wondering whether Bullock was the right choice for the role. She is not my favourite actress and her roles tend to lend themselves to her smile and her quirky facial expressions. I did come to the realization that she perfectly captured the heart of the role. The role which apparently was nearly awarded to Marion Cotillard, Scarlett Johansson, Blake Lively and Natalie Portman. George Clooney plays Bullock's colleague and performs capably. He is charming without being ingratiating. Although it seems too likely that he was just playing himself. Gravity is Cuarón's first film since 2006's Children of Men. Before taking over the Harry Potter franchise for the third installment (2004's Prisoner of Azkaban), he directed his best film to date, Y Tu Mama También (2001). Gravity devotes little of its ninety minute run time to the emotional heft of Bullock's backstory, but Cuarón manages to find emotional depth through the stunning visual effects. Space-set films often romanticize the idea of space, but Gravity takes a frighteningly different approach to the theme of spatial solitude. It is a visually stunning and thrilling film that is best viewed on the big screen. Sandra Bullock's performance takes a back seat (in the third row of a van) to Cuarón's stunning visuals.

Bullock stars as Ryan Stone, a bio-medical engineer on her first space shuttle mission. She is teamed up with a veteran astronaut, Matt Kowalski (Clooney), who is on his final mission. While on a spacewalk to service the Hubble Space Telescope, the team is informed that debris from a Russian military strike on a defunct satellite is headed directly for them.

For the past few months Sandra Bullock has been discussed alongside Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) and Judi Dench (Philomena) as front runners for Best Actress nominations. Suddenly, after winning a less-than-deserved award for The Blind Side in 2009, any somewhat decent performance gives Bullock a shot at a second award? Gravity will not be remembered for anything more than its superior visual effects. Alfonso Cuarón is a fantastic director and he has made a remarkable film, but it is due entirely to Cuarón's decision to take a risk in making a science fiction film. Gravity is co-written by Alfonso Cuarón's son Jonás. It is his second writing credit after his first feature in 2007, Año Uña. The dialogue does seem realistic and it rarely feels forced, but so much of the film depends heavily on the effects and the magnitude of space. From Star Wars to Star Trek to Moon and even my beloved Futurama, space has never felt so enormous and lonely. Films have so often made space seem exciting and made me want to explore the unknown, but Gravity has made me reconsider it entirely. Gravity is jaw-dropping and breathtaking. The actors are almost unnecessary against the beauty of Cuarón's vision of space, but the plot would have suffered without character.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

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