Believe everything you’ve heard. All the hype. All the enthusiasm for Sandra Bullock’s remarkable Oscar-bound performance.
No one’s pulling your chain when they go on and on about “Gravity” and those how’d-they-do-that special effects and the long takes … and its groundbreaking use of 3D that has you feeling the weightlessness of being 400 miles above Earth … and that they pulled the whole damn thing off with just two actors who will make you cry and laugh and cry and feel more intensely connected to humanity than any space movie ever has. And oh, did I mention Bullock’s career-best performance?
Alfonso Cuaron’s astounding work of gut-wrenching poignancy and unnerving realism – a film four-plus years in the making, and one that Bullock called “her best life decision” – isn’t just an hour-and-a-half of gripping sci-fi drama; it’s a revolutionary cinematic tour de force. A masterpiece. A classic. However you put it, whatever words you use to characterize such greatness, this is certain: It’s one of the best films you’ll ever see.
Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a NASA mission specialist on her first space voyage. She’s there to repair the Hubble telescope. She’s nervous as hell. Easing some of her tension is crackerjack astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), all casual and jokey – like if Buzz Lightyear actually existed. Things get serious when suddenly shrapnel zips their way and, as they avoid it, they tumble and smack and spin, throwing – as seen in the trailer – Stone “off structure” and into the quiet of the cosmos, where she free-falls into nothingness.
The lunch Dr. Stone fights down at the start of the mission is now your problem – see if you can do the same. It won’t be easy, because “Gravity” takes you on a dizzying odyssey of survival, reminding you – before the first shot – that “life in space is impossible.” And, with each breath Bullock takes, it sure looks it.
The against-all-odds adventure, of course, is the framework of the film, but – without revealing too much – “Gravity” goes deeper with its life-affirming profundity and an allegorical theme of rebirth (one such metaphor is of Bullock in a fetal curl the first time she steps out of her suit). Stone’s tragic backstory, unraveling through conversations with Kowalski, is as critical to her survival as getting back on that spacecraft.
Written by Cuaron and brother Jonas, the absorbing, heartfelt narrative – a rich catharsis for loss – does so much with so little, poeticizing dialogue exchanges between the astronauts as they fight to keep themselves, and each other, alive. It’s a lot like getting lost in the symphonic rush of a Sigur Ros song – and actually, that may be just what Steven Price, who composed one helluva meditative score, was going for. Even after the last shot leaves you in paralyzed awe, the music takes you back to every sight, every sensation, every word that Bullock speaks during her overwhelmingly affecting monologues.
And then there’s the 3D. It’s the only way to see “Gravity,” a life-changing dazzler best experienced on the biggest IMAX screen you can find. This is an immersive piece of space replication that will go down in cinema history, so size matters. The first mind-blowing shot is a fluid 17-minute take, and keeping the camera in space, on the actors, for that length of time works effectively to float you up there with Bullock and Clooney. Cuaron’s virtuoso as a filmmaker (established in 2006 with “Children of Men”) – now, certainly, reaching a whole new level of genius – is demonstrated with other clever elements, like a mirror on Kowalski’s suit that reflects Stone as he makes small talk about her life back home and the shots from within Bullock’s fogged-up helmet so we see and feel everything she does.
And we do, because Bullock is a triumph. The veteran actress has done impressive work before – “28 Days,” “Crash,” “The Blind Side” – but never of this caliber. Never this physical. Never this deep. The part of Stone demands a lot from her – particularly solo screen time, when she’s the only one up there – and her down-to-earth appeal feels exactly right for this role, expressing every fear and sadness, and all the fierce determination to push on, as Stone looks tragedy right in the eye.
For these 90 nail-biting minutes with her, you won’t just be moved to space – you will be moved to feel, to cry and, most of all, to live.