Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language.
Running time: 91 minutes.
Four stars out of four.
Believe the hype: “Gravity” is as jaw-droppingly spectacular as you’ve heard — magnificent from a technical perspective but also a marvel of controlled acting and precise tone. This is not hyperbole: This is the best film I’ve seen so far this year.
I seriously have no idea how Alfonso Cuaron made this movie. I mean, I have some idea, and it involves many, many talented people in front of many, many computers. But the fact that we genuinely feel like we’re watching George Clooney and Sandra Bullock in space — floating, tumbling, hurtling, clinging to each other for life — is just a mind-bogglingly impressive thing. We forget that these are A-list stars and become totally immersed in their characters’ struggle to survive.
My good friend Justin Chang at Variety put it best when he said: “See it in 3D, on the biggest screen you can find.” If there’s an IMAX theater near you, get there. If there isn’t an IMAX theater, hop in your car and drive to one. I saw it in plain-old 3-D and was blown away — I can’t even imagine how much more mesmerizing it would have been in IMAX.
“Gravity” does everything right in ways that are both big and small. It’s beautiful and horrifying, detailed yet enormous, specific yet universally relatable. Yes, it’s about how space can be a wondrous and unforgiving place but it’s also about earthly human truths: love and loss, perseverance and redemption.
You’re sure to find yourself reacting viscerally in some way, perhaps in many ways. I was surprised to find myself on the verge on tears nearly the whole time, so moved was I by the awesomeness of the images, then by the intimate, dreamlike way in which these two characters reveal themselves to each other, and ultimately by the sheer force of will in the face of impossible peril. But “Gravity” is primarily an incredibly intense experience: 90 minutes of tight jaw, crossed legs and clenched fists. The story itself, which director Cuaron wrote with his son, Jonas, may strike you as formulaic at first, but it will startle you again and again.
It begins with a bravura single take that seems to go on forever: A speck in the distance set against an infinite blackness grows closer and closer until it’s clear that we’re looking at actual people, 600 km above Earth, working on the Hubble Telescope. (The sound design, by the way, is sublime; it’s also a nice touch that Ed Harris, star of “Apollo 13” and “The Right Stuff,” provides the voice of Mission Control.)
Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone is an accomplished medical engineer making her first shuttle mission. She is all business — focusing hard on doing everything right, understandably nervous in this foreign and complex scenario. Bullock does so much in this film simply through breathing, voice modulation and subtle facial expressions; long before things get gnarly, we have a great feeling for who she is.
On the other end of the spectrum is Clooney’s Matt Kowalski, a veteran astronaut making his final mission. “Matt, it’s been a privilege,” his longtime colleagues tell him. This means something terrible surely will befall him. Kowalski glides around the telescope with a jet-pack strapped to his back, glibly joking with Mission Control, playing country songs, telling tall tales.
“Houston, I have a bad feeling about this mission,” he kids, as usual. Clooney is doing Danny Ocean in space, his rich voice oozing charisma and a wry worldliness. But his cool confidence becomes crucial once this seemingly routine operation turns ugly — which it does, in a hurry.
Debris from a neighboring space station is flying toward them, forcing them to abort the mission and climb back into the shuttle. But the crew members don’t all make it in time, leaving Stone and Kowalski floating in the darkness once a storm of metal and mass arrives. Cuaron’s use of 3-D is particularly strong in these massive action sequences — it’s flinch-inducing — but he also finds the delicacy in the technology in quieter moments.
Suddenly, all these two have is each other; tethered together, cut off from Earth, running out of time and oxygen, they search for a way back home and hope to avoid the next wave of debris. “Gravity” often feels the a dazzlingly high-tech play on film, with two expert actors playing off each other brilliantly. And just when it seems as if things couldn’t possibly get any worse … they do.
I wouldn’t dream of telling you where “Gravity” goes from here as it evolves and reveals its characters’ resourcefulness and resolve. I will say this is the performance of Bullock’s career, as she rises to the challenge of conveying a history and an arc in the smallest of ways and the tightest of circumstances. Like the film as a whole, it’s a breathtaking thing to behold.