‘Gravity’ defies all sense of cinematic gravity

'Gravity,' directed by Alfonso Cuarón, stars Sandra Bullock — Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
‘Gravity,’ directed by Alfonso Cuarón, stars Sandra Bullock — Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, is a movie unlike any other that has hit Hollywood in recent years. It plays like a theatrical two-hander, depicting a journey of epic proportions. The stunning visuals, shot with care by Oscar winner Alfonso Cuarón, are some of the most impressive scenes ever produced on film. There are sequences in Gravity that come close to inducing gasps. From their poetic simplicity to their gut-wrenching intensity, the visuals are simultaneously personal and celestial.

Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, an engineer on her first shuttle mission. Clooney is Matt Kowalski, an astronaut with a comfortable and cool attitude. Together they are like polar opposites, one all about business and the other all about conversation. After a disaster destroys their shuttle and the rest of the mission’s team members, Matt and Ryan need to survive with limited resources.

The narrative is never interrupted by silly flashbacks or extraneous plot lines. Everything is about Matt, Ryan and their quest to survive.

Because the plot is so simple (perhaps too simple), Cuarón is able to focus on the visual splendor of space and the violent thrill of their journey to stay alive. The scenes where these two characters work their way through plan after plan to find a route home are pulsating and enjoyable. The movie floods the screen with energy and rigor, never letting go for the entire duration. After a screening of Gravity, especially in 3D, one is likely to be drenched in sweat. It’s that entertaining and gripping.

Clooney doesn’t break new ground with his acting. In some ways, he’s playing himself, or at least the self that he portrays on red carpets and in media interviews. He’s a smart talker with an infectious smile. When all hope looks lost, he decides to layer the conversation with some humor.

Bullock is the main draw here, and her acting is top notch. It’s tough to pull off anxiety and dread for such a prolonged period of time, but it’s easy to believe this engineer’s plight. With little dialogue and the necessity for a full-body performance, Bullock delivers one of her strongest roles, relying on instinct, screaming and an inner-drive to succeed.

Cuarón won the Academy Award for Gravity, and that seems entirely appropriate. Even with Bullock’s skill and Clooney’s charm, the movie is truly an exercise in visual storytelling. Without the captured scenery, the movie would be ho-hum, just another thriller looking to make a dent at the box office. However, by stressing the poetic beauty of space and the truly breathtaking 3D composition, Cuarón is able to insert his expertise as a third character in the story.

Gravity breaks ground because of how it looks, which is a rare achievement for a Hollywood movie.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Gravity

  • 2013

  • Directed by Alfonso Cuarón

  • Written by Alfonso Cuarón and Jonás Cuarón

  • Starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney

  • Running time: 90 minutes

  • Rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language

  • Rating: ★★★★

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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