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October 19, 2013 · Posted in Legends  
    

Gravity

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If Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity doesn’t make you catch your breath or feel your heart drop into your stomach at least once, Major Tom, you may as well cut your tether and float off into the void. You simply don’t have a pulse.

Cuarón and a bulging flight crew of movie magicians have crafted a suspense tale at once simple and spectacular, a straightforward story of survival that’s both visually stunning and viscerally gripping – and it clocks in at a satisfying 90 minutes, in itself something of a miracle in the current age of overstuffed blockbusters.

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star as members of a NASA team making adjustments on the Hubble Space Telescope when a disaster in low orbit leaves them fighting for their lives. Following an awe-inspiring opening sequence in which the space-suited crew goes about its duties against the heady vertiginous backdrop of the earth spread out below, the moment in which hell soundlessly breaks loose is positively hair-raising.

With their shuttle destroyed and the rest of the crew dead, the two stranded astronauts find themselves free floating in a Newtonian nightmare in which coping with the laws of physics is almost overwhelmingly complex…and every effort only serves to further diminish an inexorably dwindling air supply.

It’s virtually impossible to separate this movie’s conventional camerawork from its CGI – Cuarón’s planning and the execution by his technical team are seamless and absolutely brilliant. Opening with a breathtaking 13-minute take that plants us convincingly in the middle of the action, the screen is filled with images that would have been impossible to achieve so credibly only a few years ago. In either the 3-D or standard versions, it’s a magnificent achievement.

The script, by Cuarón and his son Jonás, is a beautifully understated piece of work. An impressive amount of it dares to do away with dialogue completely, choosing to let the silence of space carry the moment. Otherwise, it’s mostly devoted to utilitarian chatter and a few understandably desperate exchanges, all aimed at keeping the issue of survival front and center. Only one scene, in which we learn something about the background of Bullock’s character, seems extraneous…but Bullock plays it with such conviction that it’s a minor distraction at most.

Clooney brings his trademark regular-guy star power to the role of veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski, a part originally intended for Robert Downey Jr. It’s still possible to hear vestiges of Downey’s quick-riffing bravado lingering in some of the lines, but Clooney makes the role his own, infusing it with warmth and low-key naturalistic heroism. It’s a fine performance and a generous one, Clooney choosing to quietly play his role to the hilt while allowing Bullock to remain at center stage throughout.

As first-time space traveler Ryan Stone, Bullock dominates the film. An engineer who’s uncomfortable in space to begin with, Stone spends much of the movie in a state of near-panic or worse. But far from being a typical movie heroine in distress, Ryan Stone is our POV character. Her panic is ours, starting from the moment the disaster sends her spinning off into space without warning, hands clutching reflexively and eyes searching frantically for anything to focus on. We struggle alongside her, hoping our own air will hold out, as she falls back on her training to find a way home. Bullock’s work here is wonderfully satisfying, an utterly relatable dramatic turn whose impressive physicality and sheer humanity prove to be as essential to Gravity’s success as Cuarón’s groundbreaking visuals. Hers is a magnificent achievement, too.

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October 5, 2013 · Posted in Now Playing