December 29, 2013 13 Comments
‘Tell you one thing—can’t beat the view’. (Matt Kowalski in ‘Gravity’)
This latest, critically acclaimed film from Alfonso Cuarón comes as the culmination of a four years’ wait for technology to catch up with the director’s ideas, similarly to Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ (2009). The wait was surely worth it since in ‘Gravity’ we see mind-blowing visuals of outer-space, beautiful shots of the Earth, and exhilarating special effects, which all required hard work. The film itself depicts two astronauts, Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) who are left stranded in the open space trying to get back to the Earth while their supply of oxygen still lasts. Flying debris and meteors are just examples of dangers they have to face on their journey back to the Earth.
It is evident that directing in ‘Gravity’ is exemplary. Although Cuarón had his ‘break-through’ with a drama ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ (2001), he is no stranger to the genre of science fiction; previously known to direct ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ (2004), which involved time-travel, and a science fiction film ‘Children of Men’ (2006). Cuarón also does a fantastic work here, and, in fact, I picture ‘Gravity’ picking up the Academy Awards 2014 for Best Cinematography and Directing quite vividly.
Even though virtually all of the film’s narrative takes place in space, ‘Gravity’ is packed with the never-boring action, suspense, thrill, with occasional touching moments thrown here and there, to emphasise the inability of the mankind to compete with the forces of universe. Cuarón captures accurately and realistically panic on camera, from the heavy breathing to the screaming, and Bullock should be credited for most of the scary moments. The finale of the movie is also masterfully accomplished from the music to the scenery, and it probably makes for the most touching part of the film. The title of the film is accurate as it seems that gravity becomes almost a main character in the film, a force on which many things in the film depend.
Taking the theme into account, the narrative can hardly be criticised, but for the ceaseless roller-coaster ride from hope to despair and back again, which the characters go through, with not a moment’s left to contemplation. Clooney’s character, Matt Kowalski, repeats during the film ‘Houston, I have a bad feeling about this mission’, and, as Matt says this, I have a bad feeling about this film, i.e. that feeling that I somehow know how the film is about to end. ‘Gravity’ thinks it is toying with its audience by constantly making them feel that something bad is about to happen (only to reverse the situation at the last minute – or not), but these instances of danger, whereby the leads are forced to go through every imaginable astronaut’s nightmare, become only too frequent throughout the movie, making it more predictable that it should be.
Sandra Bullock has already shown she can act and her role in ‘The Bind Slide’ (2009) landed her an Oscar. However, while watching ‘Gravity’ I could not help but draw connection with her role in ‘Premonition’ (2007), a quite underrated, thought-provoking gem of a film in which Bullock faces a very stressful series of events, which no human being on this Earth is likely to face again. As in ‘Premonition’, Bullock displays a realistic reaction to stress in ‘Gravity’, finding inner strength to combat her weaknesses and trying to make sense of the situation all on her own. Bullock is someone who we all can identify with, and in that way, I am relieved that Angelina Jolie, who was originally cast, was unable to make it to the final version.
After Soderbergh’s ‘Solaris’ (2002), George Clooney should feel right at home in ‘Gravity’, but in my opinion, Clooney (in the role of Matt Kowalski) poses considerable problem here. In the words of one movie critic “Clooney plays things as if he’s still ‘Up in the Air’ [(2009)], delivering the “crammed-to-the-gills backpack” speech — way too cool for the dire circumstances” (Weber, E. Necn.com). I cannot agree more with this assessment. Although Clooney is funny and witty, he also makes ‘Gravity’ less believable, more fantastical, and, frankly, less moving. It is clear that the cast must have included some nice, ‘laid-back’, funny guy to offset the nervousness and tension of Ryan Stone (Bullock). However, Clooney hardly fits this profile, and virtually any other actor would have been a better choice. Hardly ‘nice’, Clooney, quite in spite of himself, still projects this image of haughtiness and cynicism, which does not fit ‘Gravity’ and its circumstances at all, and far from being ‘likeable’, Clooney’s character may appear quite annoying.
This doubt about Clooney’s character makes some to respond quite neutrally to some scenes in the film, which should trigger some emotional response otherwise, and Bullock becomes the one who saves such scenes from a total disaster. This is especially so since Clooney is supposed to portray a real hero in the movie ….Wait…Clooney? Really? Whoever is acquainted with his previous films, should feel, at the very least, sceptical to see him in this role, and even his forthcoming film ‘The Monuments Men’ (2014) is not enough to convince ourselves of the seriousness, unselfishness, and benevolence of Clooney’s film characters. But then again, the first choice for the role of Matt was Robert Downey Jr. (who was forced to drop out due to scheduling conflicts) and I should not really complain knowing the alternative.
Overall, Cuarón pushes the boundaries of cinema’s capabilities very far with visually breath-taking ‘Gravity’. It literally transforms movie experience and the effects will leave one gasping in awe. The film is also very fascinating, intense and dramatic; there is suspense and thrill on every corner, and it is a must-see for everyone who is even remotely interested in space exploration because of the insight ‘Gravity’ gives into this. However, as it usually happens with 3D films, the problem is in the overall plot – its sheer predictability and sometimes impossibility, coupled with a strange casting choice, means that ‘Gravity’ is not as moving and inspirational as one would expect it to be, and it may contribute to a sense that we have just been on the ride of our lives which, ironically and quite unfortunately, we can easily forget the next day. 7/10