‘Tell you one thing—can’t beat the view’ (Matt Kowalski in ‘Gravity’).
This latest critically-acclaimed film from Alfonso Cuarón comes as the culmination of a four years’ wait for technology to catch up with the director’s ideas, similarly to Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ (2009). In ‘Gravity’, we see mind-blowing visuals of the outer-space, beautiful shots of the planet Earth and exhilarating special effects. The film itself depicts two astronauts, Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) who are left stranded in the open space trying to get back to Earth while their supply of oxygen is running out. Meteors and flying debris are just examples of the dangers they have to face on their journey back.
Even though virtually all of the film’s narrative takes place in the open space, ‘Gravity’ is packed with never-boring action, suspense, thrills, with occasional emotional moments thrown here and there to emphasise the inability of the mankind to compete with the forces of the universe. Cuarón captures the panic accurately and realistically on camera, from the heavy breathing to the screaming of his actors. The finale of the movie is also masterfully accomplished from the right music to the stunning scenery, and it is probably the most touching part of the film. It seems that gravity really becomes almost a main character in the film, a force on which many things in the film depend.
Taking the theme into account, the narrative cannot really be criticised. The story is a ceaseless roller-coaster ride from hope to despair and back again with not a moment left to contemplation. Clooney’s character, Matt Kowalski, repeats: ‘Houston, I have a bad feeling about this mission’, and, as Matt, the audience may also have a bad feeling about this film, i.e., that feeling that they may know how the film is about to end. However, unfortunately, although the film may think it is toying with its audience by constantly making them feel that something “bad” is about to happen every second of the movie, all these instances of “danger” in the film become only too frequent as the film progresses, making it more predictable that it should be.
Alfonso Cuarón does an admiring job directing this challenging film. Although Cuarón had his ‘break-through’ with a drama ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ (2001), he is no stranger to the world of science-fiction, having previously directed ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ (2004), which involved time-travel, and a science-fiction film ‘Children of Men’ (2006).
Sandra Bullock has already shown she can act well, and her role in ‘The Blind Slide’ (2009) landed her an Oscar. However, while watching ‘Gravity’, it is impossible not to draw connections with her previous role in ‘Premonition’ (2007), an underrated, thought-provoking gem of a film in which Bullock faces some very stressful and horrific events. As in ‘Premonition’, Bullock here displays a very realistic reaction to stress, finding inner strength to combat her weaknesses and trying to make sense of the situation all on her own. It is easy to identify with Bullock’s character, and in that way, the audience should feel a tad grateful that Angelina Jolie, who was originally cast for the role, was unable to make it to the final cut.
After Soderbergh’s ‘Solaris’ (2002), George Clooney should feel right at home in ‘Gravity’, but, in my opinion, Clooney (in the role of Matt Kowalski) is a huge (if not the main) problem in this film. In the words of one movie critic “Clooney plays things as if he’s still ‘Up in the Air’ [(2009)], delivering the “crammed-to-the-gills backpack” speech — way too cool for the dire circumstances” (Weber, E. Necn.com). This evaluation is spot-on. Although Clooney is funny and witty, he also makes ‘Gravity’ less believable, more fantastical, and, frankly, less moving. It is clear that the cast must have included some nice, ‘laid-back’, funny guy to offset the nervousness and tension of Ryan Stone (Bullock). However, Clooney hardly fits this profile, and virtually any other actor would have been a better choice. Hardly ‘nice’, Clooney, quite in spite of himself, still projects this image of haughtiness and cynicism, which does not fit ‘Gravity’ and its circumstances at all, and far from being ‘likeable’, Clooney’s character is quite annoying at times.
This doubt about Clooney’s character makes some to respond quite neutrally to some scenes in the film, which should trigger some emotional response otherwise, and Bullock becomes the one who saves such scenes from a total disaster. This is especially so since Clooney is supposed to portray a real hero in the movie…Wait…Clooney? Really? Whoever is acquainted with his previous films, should feel, at the very least, sceptical to see him in this role, and even his forthcoming film ‘The Monuments Men’ (2014) is not enough to convince ourselves of the seriousness, unselfishness, and benevolence of Clooney’s film characters. But then again, the first choice for the role of Matt was Robert Downey Jr. (who was forced to drop out due to scheduling conflicts), and I should not really complain knowing the alternative.
Overall, Cuarón pushes the boundaries of cinematic capabilities very far with his visually-stunning ‘Gravity’. It literally transforms movie experience. The film is also very intense and dramatic; there is suspense and thrill on every corner, and it is a “must-see” for everyone who is even remotely interested in space exploration. However, as it usually happens with 3D films, the problem lies in the plot – in its predictability and impossibility, coupled with a strange casting choice. All this means that ‘Gravity’ becomes less moving and less inspirational than one would desire, and it may contribute to the sense that we have just been on the ride of our lives which, ironically, we can easily forget the next day. 7/10