Alfonso Cuarón directs Gravity, which follows Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), a space engineer and an astronaut respectively, who attempt to survive in the most impossible environment possible – space.
Many critics have lauded the film for its technical prowess, all for good reason. Cuarón’s direction is top notch, utilizing some of the greatest and most ambitious CGI ever seen. The director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki, makes these shots possible, and I believe he will win the Oscar this upcoming year for this film. The first shot of the film is about 17 minutes long, and it is smoooooooooth. The camera changes from an extreme long shot to an extreme close up to a subjective shot to a rolling shot, all within the same take. Is this directorial masturbation like some recent films with great style have been (we’re looking at you, Stoker)? No, this is Cuarón and Lubezki understanding how to use the camera to enhance the film, as opposed to using it for their own indulgence.
The performances in the film are good. Clooney is very good at playing that smooth, charismatic man he usually does. He has done it in film in nearly everything he has been in, from From Dusk Till Dawn to Soderbergh’s Oceans movies to Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. Bullock does pretty well at holding her own when she is the only person on screen. Is there anything particularly special about their performances? No, not really. Sandra Bullock is going to receive some recognition, probably an Oscar nomination. Yes, not just anyone could hold their own nearly alone against space for ninety minutes, but the performances will not be remembered a decade from now. This is not an actor’s film so much as it is a director’s film.
Now, I have some criticisms of the film some other critics do not agree with. Some have been calling Gravity a masterpiece, which is ridiculous. It has not been out in theaters for a month yet. People need to reflect upon the film more before making such hyperbolic statements. Plus, some things just did not work for me. I found the score to be, while beautifully composed, largely unneeded. The dangers of space, things crashing into a minimalistic crew, out of their control? Scary. All of that juxtaposed with silence? Terrifying. This is a solely subjective criticism, though, and many do not agree with me here. I do think the silence would have been crazy good, and Cuarón even stated in an interview that he was going to make it silent up until Guillermo del Toro (dammit GdT, now I have two things against you!) intervened and told him to make it more crowd-pleasing.
I have an issue with directors, especially an auteur, attempting to make a film more crowd-pleasing for the sake of making it crowd-pleasing. Yes, I get that the film should make a profit. That makes sense to me. However, the film still would have received stellar reviews and starred Sandra Bullock and George Clooney with/without as much sound. It would have that box-office draw it needs. Making it a bit easier for audiences, taking away from the artistry (again, this is my opinion here) of it all? Absolutely ridiculous.
On a same note, I also have an issue with the reliance on dialogue. For a film that is largely set in space with only two people in frame at any one time max, the amount of dialogue in the film is insane. The amount of needless exposition took me out of the experience numerous times. Some of the dialogue is almost cringe-worth, specifically one moment where Bullock is talking to herself about going to this Chinese space station that was already pointed out in a previous line of exposition.
All of this being said, there is a lot to love about this film. The length of some shots was absolutely mind-boggling. The religious motifs were well done. The symbolic themes of the film (leaving the cold, isolated state of mind her character was trapped in at the beginning, to the warm and alive feeling of the Earth) was remarkably well done.
The special effects were used effectively, enhancing the film, rather than the film being used to showcase the special effects. At one point, Bullock cries, and her tears float up towards the camera, which decides to focus on those. The fact that something like that can be done is a marvel. While I disliked some of the dialogue, some lines were absolutely phenomenal. Specifically, I am thinking of a scene where Clooney and Bullock’s characters are floating to a space station and Bullock reveals a bit about her past which I believe is the point behind the entire film.
I am slightly upset that this is not the masterpiece of this generation some had lead me to believe it would be. However, this has happened time and time again for me; films disappoint me after mass word of it being great. I have grown to distrust other critics, ignoring their word so I do not work up a film too highly inside of my mind. Is this a great film? No. It is just good. Will I be angry if this film wins best picture, like some believe it will? No, no not really. Unlike last year’s Argo, this is not an exercise in mediocrity. I believe there is a lot of good to be seen here, and it is something that should be seen on the big screen. The amount of money this has made is a delight to see, and as it reaches for the international $1 billion mark, I will be smiling.