Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Writers: Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Running Time: 91 minutes
It’s easy to get swept up in the hype surrounding Gravity. Alfonso Cuarón’s latest effort is truly a technical marvel, and it is one of the most visually stunning films to come out in years. This is the type of feature that begs to be experienced on the biggest screen possible — IMAX 3D, preferably — and it’s the rare release that is garnering nearly unanimous praise from critics and audiences alike. Taken on these merits alone, Gravity is worth the trip to the theater. However, it is lacking in a few crucial areas, and these issues keep it from reaching the “instant classic” status that many are quick to label it as.
In theory, the idea behind the film is simple. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a rookie on her first space mission, and veteran astronaut Ray Kowalski (George Clooney), on his last mission before retirement, are performing a routine spacewalk before disaster strikes. A Russian missile strike has caused a massive chain reaction, sending seemingly endless amounts of space debris heading directly toward them. Their shuttle is destroyed, and soon the two protagonists become split apart.
At this point, our attention is focused primarily on Ryan and her will to survive. She is given a slight bit of back story involving a tragedy that occurred back home, and this is used as an attempt to get us to connect with her. In reality, this little nugget of information feels contrived. Ryan’s story is something that has been done to death in cinema — can this emotionally broken character overcome the overwhelming odds to stay alive? — and the overall writing leaves a lot to be desired. There is also quite a bit of on-the-nose symbolism regarding the rebirth of human life, some of which feels out of place.
Yet it is a testament to Ms. Sandra Bullock that we are in fact still able to resonate even slightly with her character. The decision to cast Bullock and Clooney — both of whom are comfortable and longtime fan favorites — was a stroke of genius. Going into the film, we already have some sort of connection to the characters simply because of who plays them. Bullock delivers what may be her finest performance yet, and she will certainly get some love during awards season. Clooney is basically playing George Clooney here, but it works for this role. His casual demeanor is the perfect complement for Bullock’s nervousness, and he makes the best of his limited screen time. I truly believe that much of the love for this film comes down to these two actors; if Robert Downey Jr. and Angelina Jolie, both of whom were originally attached to the project, had remained in the film, it could have been an unmitigated disaster.
It is especially impressive that even with these script problems, Gravity is a compelling film. The combination of Alfonso Cuarón’s direction and Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is a match made in heaven — just take a look at the film’s remarkable 17-minute opening shot as an example. Their work truly makes it feel as if you are floating in space, and the 3D is entirely organic. It remains to be seen how the film will hold up on DVD/Blu-ray, but as a theatrical experience, few are better.