The vastness of space and the plight of one woman; that is what captivates the screen for the almost 90 minutes of filmmaker extraordinaire Alfonso Cuaron’s latest revelation, “Gravity” (2013). There is no way to say it more bluntly than to just throw it out there, this is one of the best films you will see this year, hands down. It also gets one of the shortest synopsis paragraphs I have ever written.
A small crew of astronauts led by Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), including scientist and first time space traveler Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), are performing a space walk when debris from a nearby satellite collides with them, decimating their ship. Ryan is thrown, spinning out of control into space, and Matt is charged with saving her and finding a way to return to Earth.
Alright, so it does get more complicated and involved than that simplification, but there is absolutely no need to ruin the film by giving you the emotional details, right? Alfonso Cuaron, who in addition to directing this film, also serves as co-producer, co-writer (with his son Jonas Cuaron), and co-editor, has created an immensely suspenseful, fight-for-survival film, but not in the way we are used to seeing… at least not in today’s films. It’s more in the style of Alfred Hitchcock or Henri-Georges Clouzot, with a suspense that is magnified because everything is drawn out into a more real-time scenario. It’s patient and exacting, which only makes things worse to witness from our helpless theater, and the end results keep you on the edge of your seat, gripping your chair.
“Gravity” is a two-person show. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are the movie, with Bullock controlling the majority of the scenes and the majority of the intensity. What separates Bullock’s performance in this film from everything that came before (yes, even her Academy Award winning role in “The Blind Side”), is that it doesn’t feel like she is acting here. She has stripped her past films and experience away and has truly become this character. Her ability to invite us into her life and share not just her current unfortunate predicament, but also the entirety of her life, is astounding and emotionally draining. She makes herself easily identifiable, which only enhances our bond to her and our hope for her survival.
The acting carries the picture, but it is the artistic side that is almost flaunted at us (in a good way). The long-running idea that a filmmaker has to choose if he is making a film for himself or the audience- the profit or the prestige, so to speak, doesn’t apply to “Gravity”. There is no reason to choose, because both categories have been blended into one. It is an art film that entertains. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is a genius, and once again delivers a work of art that is certain to obtain him another Academy Award nomination. The musical score, composed by Steven Price, will at times take your breath away with its emotional evoking power. The editing (another sure-fire Academy Award nomination) by Mark Sanger is groundbreaking. And then there are the visual effects which are flawless, making “Gravity” the undisputed champion of space films, boldly setting the bar far above everything that has come before.
Alfonso Cuaron is not a “household” filmmaking name. His films come few and far between, and his style and ability to push the boundaries of filmmaking, often leave viewers feeling out of sorts. Perhaps it’s because he has just evolved into a filmmaker that exceeds our comprehension. It’s been seven years since his last directorial film, “Children of Men” (2006), wowed and amazed, and who knows how long we will have to wait for him to stun us again. Until that time, there is little to be said to him except simply, thank you.