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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