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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Review: Gravity

If you've seen or heard anything about Gravity, you might be wondering: 
a) how does this movie last more than 10 minutes? and 
b) could it possibly live up to the hype?

Buzz has been steadily humming about Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity, a space thriller starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, for months, but the previews are elusive. Debris smashes through the astronauts' shuttle, sending them flying into darkness, and the screen fades to black. What we see in Gravity's previews establish the beginning of this film, which is about how Bullock and Clooney struggle to control their situation and get home while floating through space, where they are weightless and, at times, powerless. 

The movie is a short and precisely-edited 90 minutes, and I felt like my fists were gripping the armrests for the entire duration. There is some self-reflection and character development in this movie - just enough - but it takes a back seat to the terrifying imagery, precise detail, and heavy symbolism. Gravity manages to be intellectual and thoughtful while still giving the audience relentless action and engagement; it's easily the most intense movie I've seen in years. 

More than anything, Gravity flexes some heavy visual muscles and takes advantage of the medium, capturing the simultaneous vastness and emptiness of space in way that is stunning. I saw this in 3D, and though I can't speak to both versions, I think it's definitely worth paying the extra for 3D. While there's much to dissect regarding the deeper meaning behind the imagery, there's also plenty to see on the surface. Almost all of the movie takes place against the black vacuum of space. The most basic of actions, such as controlling movement or direction, become impossible. And although the action is strong, it's unusual compared to your typical action movie. You're not constantly wondering if the characters will make it out of the building before the bomb's timer hits zero. Instead you're hanging on every second of a shot to see if the characters will manage to grip a stationary object correctly. Or if they'll be able to face the correct direction. 

That's not to say there aren't broader strokes or leaps in the action. The ending may not sit well with everyone, and although the film feels painfully plausible with regard to movement and detail, the plot arc on the whole isn't rooted in probability. The film's weaker moments come in the form of dialogue that works a little too hard to broadcast the characters' inner thoughts. For most of the film I felt like I was watching a documentary, but in a few moments of heavier dialogue, it hits you that you really are watching a movie. Gravity definitely embraces the "less is more" concept visually, but at least one of Bullock's key scenes could have relied more on gestures and facial expressions rather than thoughts spoken aloud. But these complaints are very minor and don't take much away from the overall experience. 

Bullock's performance was firm and convincing, however, and was physically very effective- there are times when Bullock moves like a dancer, adding to the beauty and poetry of the shot. Clooney basically just plays George Clooney; the handsome, wise-cracking and suave guy that he always plays. It works really well here because Gravity is so heavy and intense that Clooney's moments are a welcome respite.

Overall, Gravity will probably be recognized as one of the most original space movies we've seen, up there with 2001 (and, arguably, Apollo 13). Beautiful and terrifying, Gravity uses silence and empty space to envelop the audience. It's an unusual film that convincingly captures the feeling of loneliness and claustrophobia at the same time. I give it an A.  
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