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Film Review: Gravity

Updated on April 11, 2015
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How does one summarize a film such as Gravity? Well, in short...

It's cold outside

There's no kind of atmosphere

I'm all alone, more or less

Let me fly far away from here - far! Far! Far!

Okay, now that I've gotten the Red Dwarf reference out of my system, it's back to business. The plot of Gravity is surprisingly simple: A group of astronauts are on a mission in space. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are two astronauts at a crossroads - Stone is on her first mission in space and Kowalski is a veteran on his final mission. The two are merely running maintenance on the Hubble telescope. The ground crew warns Stone and Kowalski of debris from a defunct satellite. These warnings are ignored and the two soon lose communication with the ground crew. More importantly, they come face to face with said debris. They're space shuttle is destroyed and their fellow crew members are killed off. The rest of the movie focuses on Stone and Kowalski's attempts to find some way - any way - back to Earth. They are low on oxygen, low on resources and are cut off from anyone who would be able to help them.

Star Sandra Bullock in one of her finest perforamances
Star Sandra Bullock in one of her finest perforamances | Source

The first thing to know about Gravity is that this story that has very little focus on the "why" of the story. There is much more focus on the "who," "what" "where" and "how" of the story. This movie's first act starts where other movies would normally start their second or maybe even third acts. I could easily imagine a lot of other movies starting out with a lot of expository scenes about the mission as an excuse to show the actors looking gorgeous outside of their space suits. While that would not necessarily be a bad approach, (Apollo 13 shows the characters' lives before they go into space and that movie is a masterpiece) this movie goes for more of "a moment in time" approach to its story telling. And that definitely works in its favor. By starting on the mission with the characters in space, we truly feel the distance and separation that the characters would likely be going through themselves.

Even without scenes showing these characters' lives before the mission, we still learn a lot about them. Kowalski is the smart veteran with a sense of humor and a lot of stories to tell. Stone is intelligent, but a little bit out of her element. She is also grieving over the loss of her daughter. Naturally, these traits are revealed through dialogue, but this makes sense as it comes off like conversations the two characters would have - especially while trying to take their minds off of the grave situation the two have found themselves in. Bullock and Clooney are perfect in these roles. It practically goes without saying that George Clooney is good at playing the supportive veteran with a comedic side. However, Bullock's performance has so much more. There are scenes where she is by herself, long stretches where she has no dialogue, thus relying on her facial expressions. Her reactions come off as natural - she has constantly has new problems thrown at her but has to remind herself that she is brave, and even does what she can to keep her spirits high. I admit I have never seen The Blind Side, but I sincerlely hope Sandra receives another Oscar nomination.

Director Alfonso Cuarón
Director Alfonso Cuarón | Source

Gravity is a movie that definitely relies on its style - especially as very visually impressive film. This is one of the few films where almost every shot communicates something. Long shots of the two characters in space express the distance and isolation of the two characters while close-ups and POV shots convey the cramped claustrophobia of the space shuttles (during the few times anyone is inside of one). There are special effects shots of space that not only show the beauty and majesty of space (much like 2001: A Space Odyssey) but also remind the audience that the heroes are in a situation they can not exactly walk away from. Not only is the lack of sound scientifically accurate, but it creates a haunting atmosphere. Aside from the extended periods without dialogue, Alfonso Cuarón is also fond of using long takes... very long takes! Aside from the technical intricacy of the scenes, these takes really allow the audience to absorb the action. Going back to Bullock's performance, she deserves credit for being able to survive these long takes - some requiring long dialogue and specific actions.

By no means however, is this movie style over substance. Stone and Kowalski's adventure seams to follow Murphy's law in that everything that could go wrong, does go wrong. However, said style only adds to the substance. Because of the minimalist style, the movie has a very natural feel to it. Because everything feels so real, it feels all the more intense. Call it a white-knuckle thrill ride, call it a nail-biter, use whatever cliches catch your fancy, this is one of the most suspenseful movies made in a long time. Even with the great suspense, the movie is well-paced as there is a good amount of breathing room between action scenes, allowing the audience to absorb in the atmosphere.

(Of course, the fact that I have an intense fear of heights and have had issues with claustrophobia may have a lot to do with the intensity I felt.)

In the past, I have avoided 3D. It all started back when I saw Toy Story 3 in 3D, and it made me dizzy. For one reason or another - one of which was literally an accident - I have seen movies in 3D. And very rarely was I impressed. Sadly, I did not see Gravity in 3D. I say "sadly" because this movie is the kind of thing that should be viewed in 3D. The floating objects, the emptiness in space. It seems like the perfect balance of having something to do in 3D without turning the film into a gimmick that distracts anyone not watching the film in 3D. If nothing else, the combination of breathtaking visuals and stellar sound (when there is sound) make this a movie that must be experienced on the big screen.

Fair warning, there SPOILERS ahead. This is something I really want to get off my chest, but I still want to warn about SPOILERS.

I wanted to discuss this while talking about the performances, but I did not want to include a spoiler so early in the review, and I especially wanted to warn about spoilers. George Clooney actually does not have a lot of screen time as he disappears around the second act of the film. I bring this up because this actually works in the film's favor. For starters, being an A-list actor that people recognize gives them a built-in attachment to the character. Casting George Clooney may seem like an excuse to put an A-list actor on the poster, but if it were some B-list actor with Sandra Bullock, the audience would probably be counting down the minutes until the character bit the dust. With Clooney, we are lured into the false sense of security that he is going to make it. Also, Clooney does put his vanity aside for the most part as we barely see his face.

SPOILERS are officially over. (Of course, that is kind of a moot point since I am about to wrap things up.)

Overall, Gravity is an absolute must-see.Cuarón's unique visual style and minimalist storytelling create a truly suspenseful and unforgettable experience. At 91 minutes, the film is briskly paced and there is not a wasted moment to be found. Forget going to the bathroom. Gravity is a film where I felt I would have missed something important if I blinked. The year may not be over, but Gravity is already a serious contender for one of the best films of the year.

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    • adecourv profile image
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      Alex deCourville 4 years ago

      Cool - thanks for reading.

    • amandajoyshapiro profile image

      amandajoyshapiro 4 years ago

      I like your phrase, "This is one of the few films where almost every shot communicates something." This film definitely makes the most of its story and images. At a proper 90 minutes, it would have failed at 2hours running time or, like you said, if it showed their lives pre-mission. That is how this film stands apart from Apollo 13 and Space Odyssey.