Monday, October 7, 2013

Review: Gravity


It has been a long 7 years since Alfonso Cuaron last released a major motion picture.  2006's Children of Men (starring Clive Owen) gave us a dark glimpse of the future and featured an auteur who had become a master of cinematographic excellence.  Midway through that film, Cuaron showcased his knack for presenting true movie tension by filming a 4-minute long uncut sequence in car that featured a large number of extras that had to be executed perfectly to work.  By not cutting at all during that sequence, the audience is able to feel like they are in the car with the characters and the terror of the scene is ramped up substantially.

With Gravity, Cuaron has taken the uncut-raw-realism from Children of Men and amplified it times 20.  The entire film is a thrill ride complete with extremely long takes that span in and out of first-person perspective and present the first true immersive theater-going experience.  The shear spectacle and technical achievement of this film is perfectly paired with the career-best acting performance of Sandra Bullock and a solid supporting effort from George Clooney to assemble what is the best movie I've seen since Christopher Nolan's Inception.

The near entirety of this movie is set in space and tells the story of two NASA astronauts, Ryan Stone (Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (Clooney) who experience a significant chain-reaction of events while repairing the Hubble Space Telescope during a Space Shuttle mission.  Stone and Kowalski become separated and must navigate through space debris and various space stations to attempt to get back to Earth alive.  The setup and the story are pretty basic but Cuaron's execution is absolutely jaw-dropping to witness.  From the get-go, we get up close and personal with the astronauts as they work on the telescope as the camera swings around and swoops in using angles we've never seen in a space film before.  It seems like 15 minutes goes by before the first camera cut is seen which helps add to the immersion of the movie.  Throughout the film Cuaron brings us close to the key characters in order to experience their reactions first-hand but also to make us feel like we are cooped up with them in the tight confines of the various space crafts and space suits they inhabit.  His direction style is so organic and real that he nearly breaks the fourth wall of the screen and at times you really do forget you are in a theater.

Bullock is remarkable in the lead role, running through a gamut of emotions during her experiences that we also get to feel first-hand.  She ends up conveying the exact types of reactions that we would if we were placed in her shoes.  With such a CG-heavy film, it's a testament to her acting ability that her performance seems so real, human and grounded.  She will be nominated for her second Oscar in a performance that I feel was superior than her award-winning turn in The Blind Side.  Clooney is in more of a sidekick-role here but his charm and experience come across well and he manages to provide a few light moments to break up the overall tension.

The sense of gravity itself is wonderfully conveyed in 3D (you MUST see this in IMAX 3D for the 3D effect and the superior sound).  The depth of view is a key element in showcasing how deep and isolated space can be.  The scenes within the space stations are filled with floating elements that pass randomly in front of the audience.  Showers of debris hurtle into view with a frighting level of speed and force.  In an epic scene of master direction, Cuaron deftly lets the tears of Bullock's character float off her face and into the camera during a time of despair.  As in Avatar, Tron and even Pacific Rim, 3D is used the right way in Gravity and I can't imagine having the same experience watching it in 2D at home.

Steven Price's score is perfect in tone complete with placid notes during the marvelous views we get of the earth from high above and ominous thundering sequences during the tensious moments of desperation.  The sound editing is amazing as well, interweaving heartbeat sounds during the quiet moments of despair and showcasing the loud thuds of objects colliding in space.  Cuaron achieves the ultimate combination of mixing audio cues with unique camera angles to complete the sense of "you-are-there" filmmaking.  The audience is able to witness the "horrors" of space without a real antagonist other than isolation and peril.

This is a perfect film and Cuaron completely succeeds with bringing his audience right into the story.  With so many first-person shots, you feel like you are right there in peril with Bullock and Clooney.  I felt so tense throughout the film and loved every minute of it.  I had even brought along a few pieces of candy to eat and upon leaving the theater I realized I never touched them.  There was no time to eat or to think about anything other than what was enfolding in space in front of me.  Make sure you GO TO THE THEATER and not wait for video with this film.  It will not be the same if you see it on your couch.   Gravity deserves all of the accolades it is receiving and garners the first 5 JR rating of 2013.  I just hope that Cuaron doesn't wait another 7 years before making his next movie.