Review by Paul Stathakis | October 7, 2013

A pretty but dismal adventure in space

‘Gravity” affirms that Sandra Bullock can star in virtually anything. Her performance in Alfonso Cuaron’s interstellar thriller tells us something we might not have know about her: she’s truly a fearless actress. Only she can star in a film as light as “The Heat” (2013) before moving on to a more heavy and dramatic project like “Gravity” in which she stars as an astronaut fighting for survival in deep space. The images are as dazzling as they are dizzying.  In terms of imagery and effects, it stands alongside “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), “Star Wars” (1977), and “Alien” (1979). Numerous films about space exploration and the dangers associated with a mission gone terribly wrong have been made. But rarely have we seen such stories unfold in a space that looks this pretty and real. As if that wasn’t enough, the principal stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are just as real in their atypical roles. For a film that was shot entirely against a green screen, the acting is terrific. Their terrified and panicky reactions bring intensity to the picture. But the praise ends there for “Gravity”, a film that charms visually while clinging to a dismal story of determination and survival. Not only does it outstay its welcome but it needlessly basks in melodrama. How shall I put it? This a sad film that, despite concluding on somewhat of a happy note, just doesn’t fill the bill. Literally.

Bullock’s name in the film is Ryan Stone and George Clooney, who stars as a medical engineer named Matt Kowalski, quickly takes notice of her unusual name. Ryan explains to Matt that her parents always wanted a boy. As they are performing a repair outside of their spacecraft, an accident occurs that leaves only Ryan and Matt alive and drifting in space. If you suffer from any form of motion sickness, you may want to take small breaks from looking at the screen. The astronauts have a limited supply of oxygen and to make matters worse, their levels are running dangerously low. Their communication signal is being scrambled because of the distance that separates them following the incident. This is a complex situation that only gets more complicated. Matt, the heroic and confident type, refuses to let Ryan slip away. He decides to go after her and save her. But then comes another issue in which the tables turn,  leaving Matt in dire need of being rescued. That’s the kind of film “Gravity” is and though it contains a few exciting sequences with a dash of suspense, it quickly becomes another movie. The second half is centered on Ryan who attempts impossible things to return to earth. Some of her ideas are quite implausible especially when she uses a fire extinguisher as a jetpack. Fun to look at but dubious nonetheless.

Aside from the spectacular effects, nothing is more prevalent than the acting which is consistent and credible from start to finish. This is not Clooney’s first venture into space. In 2002 he starred in Steven Soderbergh’s science-fiction thriller “Solaris” which was a nice change for him. Clooney is normally cast as a wise-cracking, well-groomed, charmer but “Gravity” gives him another opportunity to break away from that typecast. Just don’t expect him to drop the charming persona. In one scene, he gets Ryan to admit that she finds him handsome, particularly his eyes. There’s a little bit of Danny Ocean in this performance but with more dramatic depth. Bullock, also playing against type, stars as a distraught character. The way in which she behaves as a distressed astronaut is heartfelt. A big part of the film involves her, exclusively, calling to mind Tom Hanks’ performance in Robert Zemeckis’ “Cast Away” (2000). Hanks was incredibly believable in his solo performance, enough to make us feel sorry for a volleyball. Bullock achieves something similar in “Gravity.” She talks to herself while struggling to stay alive. This is not an easy role but Bullock really makes the best of it.

But the story is ultimately hollow. Halfway into the film, it becomes quite evident that it is solely about survival. Nothing more, nothing less. As I sat in the dark watching, I couldn’t help but think about the endless possibilities that the writers could’ve explored. I expected something more engaging and less depressing. Films that generally take place in space tend to overdramatize situations. I was hoping that “Gravity” would break free from that formula but, alas, it didn’t. It take us on a journey to the stars, yes, but not beyond.

 

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