Few films demand to be seen in theaters nowadays, but Gravity is an unforgettable experience that’s captivating from the moment the title pops on screen. Alfonso Cuarón has crafted a relatively simple film of survival in terms of its plot structure, yet what pushes the film above any other space thriller is the way Cuarón lyrically moves the camera. That’s a huge testament to his cinematographer, the great Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men, The Tree of Life), who enables the scenes to become claustrophobic and genuinely unsettling. I’m not sure I have ever seen a film this technically proficient and impeccable; not only is this a visually masterful film, it contains some of the most intricate sound design I’ve encountered in an action film. There’s no sound in space, so Cuarón and crew do not give loud sounds to explosions, but rather build upon the intensity of the dialogue and showcase Steven Price’s score. The film almost demands sound as much as a silent film.
Our protagonist, Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), is a relatively inexperienced engineer working on a routine satellite fix 372 miles above Earth. She’s a medical engineer who is still reeling over the loss of a loved one back home; she mentions how she could get used to the silence, and we begin to understand why. It’s soothing for a woman in grief. Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is the veteran astronaut who cracks jokes and hopes to take the longest space walk in history. There’s a poetic element to that final request. When a Russian satellite breaks off into debris, it puts their mission in danger. They are told to abort immediately, the scene grows increasingly tense, and then debris begins to hit as they struggle to survive. They’re ravaged, while Ryan is stranded after her tether breaks. After that, it’s a fight for survival as Matt attempts to make his way back to her and they hope to find some way to get back home.
The film’s 3D is beautifully rendered and visually necessary to fully experience the film. Gravity becomes a tale of survival as Ryan eventually works on her own, and Sandra Bullock’s performance here is one of impressive subtlety. This is a character that grows complex throughout the film, particularly in a later scene where she struggles with faith. She mentions how she doesn’t pray because no one taught her how; we can see in this moment that her loss of faith is not stemming from religion but of hope for survival. Bullock’s performance is a career-best and one of the best lead female performances I’ve seen this year. Very rarely do we see ambition in big-budget blockbusters, but Cuarón has delivered a masterpiece of fierce human emotion that remains visceral and gripping throughout. Bullock’s character late in the film mentions that it’s a “hell of a ride.” Indeed it is.
Grade: ★★★★★ (out of 5)