‘Gravity shoots for the stars, Bullock keeps it trapped in orbit

Kennedy Thomas, Reporter

“Open Water’ in space.” That’s the general consensus of many upon viewing the trailer for “Children of Men” director Alfonso Cuaron’s new survival-thriller flick, “Gravity.” At first glance, this would seem an accurate description, as the plot of the film focuses on a man and woman who find themselves stranded in a dangerous environment with little hope of survival.
The comparisons end there, however. “Gravity” is less of a slow-burning descent into darkness and more of a roller coaster ride. The film wastes little time setting up its characters before unleashing disaster. We are given brief introductions to our protagonists, Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a medical engineer who is assisting with installing prototype technology onto a US satellite, and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), a veteran astronaut with a penchant for outlandish stories of his personal exploits and country music. Of course, their mission does not go according to plan, and once the ride starts, it does not stop, save for small respites from tension that serve as the ascent before the next drop.
Murphy’s Law is in full effect as the forces of gravity continuously assault our heroes and seemingly do everything to seal their fates. With nature itself bent on Stone and Kowalski’s failure, the danger of their situation is palpable, and the tension created by their surroundings, where one wrong step can end either of them instantly, is the driving force of interest for the audience. Perhaps due to the sheer helplessness of their circumstance, the film succeeds in making the audience care about its characters and their plight enough to root for them, despite the small amount of time spent on character development.
Where the movie truly shines is in its visuals. From the very beginning, Cuaron does not hesitate to linger on the vastness and beauty of space. The absence of sound – thankfully accurate to reality despite the misleading trailer’s indulgences – serves to highlight the magnificence of the environment. The carnage of disaster is equally impressive, with convincing special effects that somehow maintain an aesthetic value, even when death and destruction is prevalent.
Space and crumbling man-made structures are not the only impressive visual treats, however. Clever first-person camera techniques are masterfully used to convey the immediacy of certain scenes, but not overused to the point of outstaying their welcome. Cuaron also makes full use of zero-gravity to create some iconic imagery, with one scene in particular featuring Bullock basking in a chamber full of fresh oxygen leaving a lasting impression.
Sound is used less to heighten the mood of a scene and more to highlight the silence of space. The film opens with a blast of noise before cutting to complete silence. For the majority of the film, the proper restraint is shown, never letting music dictate the mood of a scene. This reticence is abandoned during the climax, when the score is finally unleashed and assaults the audience with complete abandon of subtlety. That may be a mark against any other film, but here it is a welcome experience that serves to contrast the prior acts’ visual focus and provide a satisfying emotional edge.
Unfortunately, the film falters a bit when it comes to casting. Clooney is perfectly serviceable and appropriate for his roll as a cocky astronaut who’s been around the block a few times, and he often delivers the best lines of the film. Bullock, however, was a misstep. For the most part, in the first third of the film, she is not a distraction. However, without giving away too much, as the plot progresses the audience will be spending a large amount of time with Bullock alone, and she just does not have the thespian prowess to pull off the amount of emotion and depth of character necessary to carry a film by herself. Her half-hearted reactions and dry delivery during poignant moments only hinder the emotional payoff of potentially great scenes. She doesn’t take the film down with her, but may hold it back from being a true classic.
Even though Bullock’s average acting may be the weakest link of the film, it is still solid enough to hold the chain together. With a light plot that somehow stays fully engrossing thanks to tight pacing and a reasonable 90 minute runtime, special effects that will amaze, and grandiose cinematography that does outer space justice, “Gravity” is a fantastic experience that will leave audiences floating on air.
4/5 Stars.