TIFF Review: ‘Gravity’ Soars Above the Rest

GRAVITY

Director Alfonso Cuarón is finally back, and he’s showing us truly amazing things.

Gravity is a technical marvel, an optical treat of the highest order. However, it can also lay claim to being one hell of a narrative, combining genius-level visuals with a taut script; the end result coming together as something really special. On the face of it, it’s the story of two NASA astronauts on a mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, and the obstacles they’ll have to overcome to survive in space. Really, Gravity is the age-old set-up in which humankind attempts to operate in an environment designed to kill. Indeed, though a far different film than Children of Men, both thematically and in terms of scope, Cuarón has created another film with weight, resonance, and a strong sense of style.

George Clooney and Sandra Bullock easily carry this briskly paced film, Bullock in particular (as Mission Specialist Ryan Stone). She turns in a remarkable performance, more textured and compelling than anything we’ve seen from her prior, including The Blind Side. Making the hostile setting of space the focal point of a film certainly comes with a huge element of risk, but I’m pleased to say everyone involved pulled it off. They’ve made a 90-minute cinematic gift for us.

I’d like to dispose with the few minor complaints I had while watching, and then we can move on the mountain of aspects I loved. On the negative side, a bit of Bullock’s Dr. Stone portrayal was slightly uneven, in terms of writing and character development (not her performance). There are parts of Dr. Stone that simply could not be legitimate. I won’t say any more for fear of spoiling what should be a fun time, but a couple of logic issues cropped up every so often.

The film also has wee timeline problems, places where minutes passed that couldn’t have, which wouldn’t a problem if the rest of the movie didn’t seem so linear and visceral. It would appear that every second here is vitally important. As such, when you 86 a few thousand of those precious seconds, more attentive watchers might toss out a complaint or two. But that’s it — that’s the list, my two issues with Gravity in sum total —  a slightly off-kilter logic and the standard movie trick of using time however the film requires it to be used.

The accolades racked up by Gravity are far more impressive. It looks so good, so stellar, that I hope everyone is able to see it on the biggest screen possible. While I’d never out and out advocate for 3D (because ugh) at least in the case of Gravity I’d be willing to make the trade-off IF the glasses came along with a huge screen. Still, if your only option is 2-D, you won’t be missing too much; the effects of Gravity only rely on that third dimension for around three minutes (total) of the film.

Back to the visuals, Cuarón has a better sense of space (and outer space) than almost anyone else working today. His camera movements (admittedly, buoyed by CGI) are amazingly smooth and efficient. You will regularly feel like you’re getting a god’s eye view of the proceedings, gently and gracefully pulled alongside the space shuttle and Hubble, with Earth’s big blue outline in the background. But when it’s time to shake you? Cuarón has a gear for that too, and when the tension mounts you’ll feel those moments deep in your chest, the sheer speed of orbiting the Earth pinning you to the back of your seat.

You’ll notice I haven’t talked much about the story, which has been quite intentional. Gravity is one of the rare films that the marketing department hasn’t spoiled, and there are so many moments here that will be all new, even to the most savvy movie website aficionado. Which is great! It’s ideal to have a film with much more to show you than you would have expected, because the movie that’s hinted at in the trailers, with Bullock floating aimlessly around in space, is not the film you’ll be seeing.

The film has a solid sense of stopping and starting momentum, there are moments to reflect on the outrageousness of the very idea of humans in space, but additional time will be spent where the human will to survive is explored and expanded upon. All in all, a great way to spend an hour and a half, in the hands of a master, draining every ounce of efficacy out the theatrical experience, reminding us all of a time when getting your mind blown at the cinema wasn’t such a rare occurrence.

/Film score: 9 out of 10

Laremy wrote the book on film criticism and now understands why this film took Cuaron so long to make.

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Writer, producer, walker of Bugsy the dog, BFCA & OFCS accredited, friend to the people, music enthusiast, book imbiber, Jester of Tortuga. Follow along @Laremy for a good time.

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