GravityReviewed By Lybarger
Posted 10/05/13 18:30:59
Alfonso Cuarón's latest movie 'Gravity' practically puts viewers in a space suit and hurls them to Earth along with the terrified Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock). In the hands of the director behind 'Children of Men,' outer space is not simply the final frontier but a terrifyingly real place that makes the big screen become a portal to Hell. Thanks to Cuarón's unusually judicious and subtle use of 3D, audiences live the horror of 'Gravity' instead of simply watching it.Even if your auditorium lacks the glasses and the elevated ticket price, the movie has such a devastating sense of claustrophobia that it's hard to decide if being stuck in a suffocating suit, burning up in reentry or simply being lost and alone in infinity is more scary.
Cuarón and his brother Jonás carefully set up an innocuous, almost dull opening before revealing the chills to follow. Stone is trying to fix something on the Hubble Telescope, but her inexperience in Earth orbit is making the task difficult. Hearing the team leader Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) spin yet another tall tale as he tries out his new rocket suit isn't helping. She's also low on oxygen in her suit.
Before she can stress out about how slowly the operation is going, a missile has accidentally hit a Russian satellite, sending debris everywhere in the vicinity. Other satellites in the area fall apart from the force of the explosion, and there's not even an atmosphere to stop the flying junk from hitting Stone's shuttle and her work site. Needless to say, it falls apart and cuts her tether. Worse, the satellites that enabled the folks in Houston to talk with Stone and Kowalski have been destroyed, so the two are now drifting through the void without guidance and little hope of rescue.
From here the Cuarón brothers come up with enough twists and pitfalls to keep Stone and Kowalski's fate from being obvious. They use frequent silences effectively. That certainly helps because sound doesn't carry across a vacuum. The spaceships that they encounter look suitably worn and lived in, making "Gravity" seem all the more convincing.
While the film is a technical wonder, it wouldn't be all that engaging if Bullock weren't ready to carry the film. As she wavers between hope and despair, the actress manages to make Stone as 3-dimensional as the flying space rubble. In addition to running out of breathable air and avoiding a fiery fall to the ground or sea below her, the Cuarón brothers give her an appropriately complicated back story so that Stone seems less like a figure in the void and more like a real person. As a result, there's a genuine feeling of suspense over her ultimate fate.
Bullock has been typecast in some forgettable girl-next-door roles, but she gets to use her full range here. It's almost a shame she won her Oscar for "The Blind Side" because this role more fully demonstrates what she can do. Actors in science fiction projects often get ignored during award seasons, which is a shame because Stone is as fully-realized character as Henry James or E.M. Forster could have crafted.One more factor in Cuarón's favor is that unlike some of his peers, he knows when to end his films. At exactly 90 minutes, Gravity is lean and briskly paced. He thankfully knows better than to waste a viewer's most precious commodity: time.
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