Movie Review: Gravity
By Edwin Davies
October 8, 2013
Key to maintaining that dread are the performances from Clooney and Bullock, who are the only actors to appear onscreen for the entirety of the film. Clooney does fine work as a man who has been on plenty of missions in his time and is stoic and pragmatic in his attitude to getting home, often beginning aimless anecdotes or prodding Stone with questions to keep her engaged in surviving, but his stock charm and charisma makes him a bit one-note, even if that note is an important and vital one in terms of the broader story.
Sandra Bullock is the real star since she is the one who has to go from despondent and desperately fearful to determined survivor over the course of 90 minutes. Her performance grounds a film that could have spun out of control with a lesser performer, giving every cresting wave of disaster real importance and weight. It's obvious, given the setting, but comparisons to Sigourney Weaver's performances as Ripley in Alien and Aliens are more than warranted; as a kind of orbital Job constantly buffeted by disaster, she gives easily the best performance of her career.
Even though it bears a closer resemblance in terms of plot to man in extremis pictures like the aforementioned Open Water, not to mention Apollo 13 (which is somewhat obliquely referenced by having Ed Harris play the unseen voice of Mission Control), the film it most reminded me of was Cloverfield.
As was the case with Matt Reeves' handheld monster movie, Gravity only shows one perspective of a story that would more traditionally show many more. We know that the events in space would play out on the ground as well, with the friends and family of Stone and Kowalski, as well as the countless people transfixed as the disaster is related by the news, watching on helplessly, but we never see any of them. Cuarón's script, which he co-wrote with his son Jonás, leaves no room for that kind of external drama, and instead remains resolute in its focus on how the disaster impacts the two characters we can actually see, and how they react to it in turn.
That myopia lends the film much of its power and gives it a refreshing leanness (Seriously, why is it rare that a hugely expensive, visually dazzling movie clocks in at an hour and a half?), but does highlight some of the aspects that don't work as well. Some of the dialogue is very awkward and clunky, though some of it can be contextualized as professionals just going about their job, and the constant stream of misfortune that befalls the characters can get a little aggravating after a while (though Stone herself expresses that exact same sentiment in the film), but it never gets boring. It's hard to quibble with these issues, which are incredibly minor in the face of what Alfonso Cuarón has achieved. Gravity is an astonishing cinematic experience, one that arguably functions best as a ride than as a narrative film, but it is one hell of a ride.