December 29, 2013 11 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). In ‘Gravity’ we see mind-blowing visuals of outer-space, beautiful shots of the Earth, and exhilarating special effects. 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 Earth while their supply of oxygen is running out. Flying debris and meteors are just examples of the dangers they have to face on their journey back.
Directing is great in ‘Gravity’. Although Cuarón had his ‘break-through’ with a drama ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ (2001), he is no stranger to the world 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). Likewise, Cuarón does a fantastic job here.
Even though virtually all of the film’s narrative takes place in the open space, ‘Gravity’ is packed with never-boring action, suspense, thrill, with occasional touchy moments thrown here and there, to emphasise the inability of the mankind to compete with the forces of the universe. Cuarón captures panic accurately and realistically on camera, from the heavy breathing to the screaming of the actors. The finale of the movie is also masterfully accomplished from the music to the scenery, and it is probably the most touching part of the film. 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 cannot really be criticised. The story is a ceaseless roller-coaster ride from hope to despair and back again with not a moment left to contemplation. Clooney’s character, Matt Kowalski, repeats: ‘Houston, I have a bad feeling about this mission’, and, as Matt, 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 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 Blind Slide’ (2009) landed her an Oscar. However, while watching ‘Gravity’ I could not help but draw connections with her role in ‘Premonition’ (2007), a quite underrated, thought-provoking gem of a film in which Bullock faces a very stressful and horrific series of events. 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. It is easy to identify with Bullock’s character, and in that way, I am almost relieved that Angelina Jolie, who was originally cast for the role, was unable to make it to the final cut.
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) is a huge (if not the main) problem in this film. 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). This evaluation is spot-on. 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 is quite annoying at times.
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 the cinema’s capabilities very far with visually breath-taking ‘Gravity’. It literally transforms movie experience. The film is also very 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. However, as it usually happens with 3D films, the problem lies in the plot – in its predictability and impossibility, coupled with a strange casting choice. All this means that ‘Gravity’ becomes less moving and less inspirational than one would desire, and it may contribute to the sense that we have just been on the ride of our lives which, ironically, we can easily forget the next day. 7/10