A Thrilling and Emotional Modern Classic
What’s the definition of perfect? Is it simply an ideal to strive for or can it be achieved in tangible form? And how do we set the benchmark? Is it quantifiable with fact or is it more of a gut instinct? For film, my theory is simple. A perfect film is an experience that defies critique. A movie you watch and find absolutely nothing wrong with. Something with the ability to deliver on every piece of hype, expectation and emotional investment. Alfonso Caron wowed us with Y Tu Mama Tambien, shocked us with Children of Men and has created a modern masterpiece with Gravity, a breakneck roller coaster of uncompromising beauty and vision.
Set in the inky blackness of space, Gravity is the story of a scientific Hubble mission gone wrong and the struggle for survival of two astronauts, newbie Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and grizzled NASA veteran, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). As the only two on screen actors, there’s a lot of heavy lifting for the pair, but they both handle the pressure nicely. With simple side stories and straight forward characterization, both Ryan and Kowalski are easy to root for and allow the audience to sit back and enjoy the scenery.
What scenery, you may ask? After all, it’s space. We’ve all seen fields of stars and spaceships before. Not so in Gravity. The most powerful aspect of the film is the stunning cinematography. Caron fans know the director’s affinity for long, uncut scenes and Gravity is the apex of this technique. The opening shot lasts thirteen minutes and not only sets us perfectly in the floaty expanse, introduces us to the characters in their natural element. The entire film is photographed with a lighter than air feel and with much of it shot in the first person, you’re always engaged in the action.
Oh yeah. There’s action. Gravity strikes an even balance between airless serenity and pulse pounding excitement. As I said in the introduction, this movie is a rollercoaster, one you’ll never want to get off of, no matter how tight you’re gripping the lap bar. Gravity is a non-stop thrill ride that gets every moment right. When things are rocking, the camera work is quick, reactive and engulfing. But when things slow down, the frame opens up, allowing the audience to take in deep breaths of the film’s powerful beauty. Some of the best scenes are the slow ones, including a sad radio conversation with a stranger and a still moment of newborn tranquility after a mind blowing series of near misses.
While the cinematography is outstanding, if Gravity doesn’t win for Best Special Effects, I’m going toss my Oscar party tray of charcuterie through an open window. When a movie comes out on Blu Ray, I love checking out the behind the scenes features, even if it dulls the magic of subsequent viewings. Gravity is so well made, so ingenious is its ability to immerse, I’ll never watch a single “Making Of”. The movie’s ability to completely transport the audience to an entirely different, yet familiar universe is worth experiencing again and again. The 3D effects are used sparingly but for great effect, enhancing the story as opposed to mindless distraction.
Initially, I posed a question about the nature of perfect and if it’s something attainable by actual people. While I can’t spend this review postulating on the phenomenon, I can soundly state Gravity gets about as close to film nirvana as any movie I’ve seen in the last few years. With strong performances, brilliant cinematography and the finest special effects this side of Jurassic Park, Caron’s masterpiece is a triumph of modern filmmaking. Imagine a thrill ride that gets your heart pumping, lasts ninety minutes and takes you on an emotional journey in the process. That’s Gravity in a nutshell / space capsule. And yes, if I’m unable to make one snide critique on a single aspect of a movie, it means it’s perfect. Or at the very least, perfect enough.
Score: 10 out of 10