Gravity is Alfonso Cuaron’s brilliantly directed, visually enthralling, masterfully suspenseful sci-fi thriller about a woman who is very bad at grabbing things. So bad I have to wonder if she isn’t due for some occupational therapy, though in her defense, I suppose wearing a space-suit makes everyday tasks like not letting go of the screw-driver you are using much more difficult.
In Gravity the Russians (of course it was the Russians) launch a missile strike that creates a cloud of debris, which, like a vengeful swarm of piranhas, starts tearing up each and every object floating in earth’s atmosphere—including the satellite that George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are working on.
Gravity’s visuals are on par with not only the best sci-fi films of recent memory, but with any film in recent memory. It’s like Life of Pi in space ,with the haunting, desolate vastness of Moon or Sunshine. Gravity never tires of finding new and inventive ways of putting its characters in peril, confronting them with debris, fire, water, more debris, and suffocation. Each action sequence is filmed with the loving care of special-effects crews who know they’re going to win an Oscar.
Gravity has exactly one thing—one–wrong with it. Unfortunately, in a film with only two actors—in which much of the time is spent solely focused on Bullock’s character—that’s a pretty big problem. The director held up his end of the project admirably; the casting director, not so much.
Bullock’s character, Ryan Stone, is a person about whom we learn three things. First, she lost her daughter in a tragic playground accident. Second, her father wanted a son. Third, she is anxious and clumsy. That’s it. The script doesn’t go overboard on character development, so in the case of Gravity it falls squarely on the actors’ shoulders to sell the characters to the audience—an important task in a thriller like this, where much of the tension comes from rooting that the characters will survive to the end.
It’s hard to tell where Bullock went wrong. She’s obviously trying hard, but every scene she is just screams “acting!” She gamely pants in terror as she spins through space, and laughs with what I guess was supposed to be giddy relief during moments of triumph. But it just isn’t working. The problem is compounded by the fact that George Clooney’s character has far more interesting dialogue, and tends to steal all the scenes he’s in. He’s not all that complex, either, but he’s funny and likable, and he doesn’t pant or drop things nearly as much. When the side character is more engaging than the lead, the movie isn’t quite working.
So see Gravity for its stunning, floating-through-space visual effects; for its panoramic view of the earth, the glorious sunrises and sunsets; the suspenseful sequences of silent but deadly mayhem (for in this movie, unlike almost every other, there is no sound in space). As a thriller movie, it’s very well put-together; but its easy to imagine how great it might have been with a different lead, which makes watching Gravity an experience as frustrating as it is beautiful.