Thursday, October 3, 2013

Movie Review: Gravity

Gravity opens with a commanding shot of planet Earth filling the screen as a space shuttle slowly comes into view. The camera never cuts, instead it dips, dives and twirls while introducing us to a NASA crew doing repair work on a satellite. They include Sandra Bullock as Ryan Stone, a space rookie on her first trip, and Matt Kowalski, a veteran on one last space walk who cracks wise as he zips around the work site on a jet pack.

In no time at all disaster strikes. A Russian satellite has been destroyed, causing a chain reaction that sends a cloud of debris orbiting the earth at high speeds and, with no air to slow it down, demolishing everything in its path. Stone and Kowalski's shuttle is hit, initiating a desperate series of events as the two astronauts look for a safe way home.

From the first image until the closing credits roll, every visual that enters the screen is extraordinary. In no other film has space exploration been presented as so terrifyingly hopeless. With no tool but their own momentum, adrift in an empty sea that stretches infinitely in all directions and taunted by the promise of land that lies just beyond reach, Stone and Kowalski bounce from one piece of flotsam to the next, searching for the possibility of escape. Oxygen is sparse, fuel is low, and the ticking time bomb of the debris cloud is always approaching for another pass.

The tension is relentless and at times, almost unbearable. Director Alfonzo Cuaron, an artist known for his uninterrupted tracking shots who has already made a name for himself with work on films like Children of Men, deploys his camera like a magician, filming impossibly realistic shots of weightless panic and claustrophobia. His sense of geography is astounding, mapping out three-dimensional scenes where everything is moving, crashing and colliding but never losing sight of where his actors are in relation to their surroundings.

But Gravity is more than just an exercise in visual bravado. Amidst the chaos, Cuaron stages an emotional conversation about life and loss. Bullock's Ryan, who functions as the audience's proxy, is racked with lingering remorse over the death of her daughter and as her situation becomes more bleak she's faced with either fighting to live or surrendering to hopelessness. Bullock may have won her Oscar for 2009's The Blind Side, but it is here that she truly proves her moxy as a dramatic actor.
Gravity is a spectacle. It is a singular event. It takes the magic and wonder of movie-making to a new level and to watch it on anything besides the big screen would be a crime.

Grade: A

*Gravity opens nationwide on Friday, Oct. 4.

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