Matt Kowalski: Beautiful, isn’t it?
This is it. This is the big one. GRAVITY, Alfonso Cuaron’s follow-up to 2006’s CHILDREN OF MEN, has been in the works for years now and is finally ready to be unleashed on a public that cannot help but be unsuspecting of it. I say this because there is no way you can properly prepare yourself for just how truly spectacular GRAVITY is. From the moment it begins, the film is astounding, a singularly unique experience that is unlikely to be matched by any other film you’ll see this year. And by the time that it ends, not only will your amazement literally be out of this world, but it will also take you a few minutes to start breathing normally again.
This wondrous film achieves its greatness by keeping things as simple as physically possible. Telling this story in outer space in a constant state of zero gravity is difficult enough; the audience doesn’t need an overly dense story to complicate things further. From a script written by Cuaron and his son, Jonas, GRAVITY is the story of two astronauts, lost in space and trying to get back to Earth. One of these astronauts is a veteran named Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), on the cusp of completing his final tour in space. The other is a medical engineer named Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), on her very first mission. When debris from a damaged satellite intersects with their vessel while they’re outside the ship working on it, they become detached from the structure and the race is on to find safety before they run out of oxygen or drift away into darkness entirely.
After lensing the last two Terrence Malick pictures (THE TREE OF LIFE, TO THE WONDER), Emmanuel Lubezki returns to working with Cuaron, whom he partnered with on CHILDREN OF MEN. His work here is simply revelatory. The way his camera whips and whizzes around the characters and structures is both dizzying and dazzling all at the same time. He is capable of capturing grandiose destruction and focused emotional character moments with the same intensity, which Cuaron then cuts together seamlessly to create an hour and half of non-stop tension that involves the viewer as if their life is somehow also at stake. GRAVITY really is a technical marvel on all levels. From the thrilling visual effects to the delicate sound design, every element of this film has to be perfect to make this completely fantastical situation believable for audiences who most likely have not been to outer space before.
While the visual aesthetic of GRAVITY is certainly a star unto itself, the film’s two actual stars are also a huge factor in the film’s success. Clooney, who replaced Robert Downey Jr. in the film, is perfectly cast and ridiculously comfortable in the part. You would think he’d been to space plenty in the past given how calm and collected he plays the character of Matt. That Clooney charm is what keeps the film from spinning out of control into the depths of total despair but it’s Bullock who carries the bulk of the weight on her impressive shoulders. As endearing and likable as Bullock is in her broader comedy roles, I’ve never thought of her as a truly capable actress, until now that is. She goes through so many emotions – feared panic, determined bravery, catharsis and elation – and she sells every single one of them. Bullock is the film’s anchor, embodying to some extent, gravity itself, and this is easily the role of her career.
Like LIFE OF PI before it, GRAVITY is more than just a movie; it is a thrilling, awe-inspiring event picture that needs to be experienced on the big screen to be fully appreciated. Films of this caliber are an increasing rarity in today’s landscape and Cuaron should be commended for sticking with this project, trying as it was for him at times. He’s done more than just make another movie; he’s given the world a great gift. Like a fair amount of other people out there, I’ve never been to space but thanks to Cuaron, I feel like I can now say I have a rough idea of what that might actually be like.