Movie Review: ‘Gravity’

In theaters

“Gravity,” written by Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Cuaron, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, 90 minutes, rated PG-13.

“Gravity,” the latest from acclaimed “Children of Men” director Alfonso Cuaron, lifts you up to the most solitary space imaginable, where the film sets up sequence after sequence of pure, relentless tension, creating arguably the most teeth-clenching, nail-biting experience ever to hit the big screen. And that’s no easy feat.

“Gravity” stars Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer working her first space shuttle mission alongside a small crew that includes Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), a veteran astronaut who regales the team and NASA’s Houston space station with his anecdotal failures in life, where the punchline is generally at his expense. There’s a reason he’s up here, 600 kilometers above Earth, away from the human population.

But Stone has her own reasons to escape the world. Her 4-year-old daughter died in a freak schoolyard accident, and she hasn’t yet come to terms with the loss.

While repairing the shuttle on the eve of Kowalski’s retirement, Houston warns the team of a cluster of debris on course to crash into the spacecraft. Sure enough, the debris swiftly swoops in, ravaging the shuttle, leaving Stone and Kowalski the sole survivors of the mission without a craft to carry them. They’ve also lost contact with Houston.

Facing impossible odds, Stone and Kowalski devise a Hail Mary survival plan to use Kowalski’s jetpack thrusters and a series of spacecrafts within a reasonable radius as stepping stones back to Earth. The barriers are endless, and with every victory an even greater challenge arises, as “Gravity” pushes its characters, and its audience, way over the edge.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the anxiety “Gravity” generates that on very rare occasions you almost forget the incredible technical achievements that are constantly right in front of you.

Since James Cameron’s “Avatar,” we’ve been waiting for a film to wow us using 3-D technology – a movie where the innovation actually adds a new dimension to the film, and not just lighten our wallets for a few gimmicky special effects pops. With the camera perpetually moving slowly around its setting and characters, Cuaron fully uses the backgrounds and foregrounds to enhance the 3-D experience, raising the bar and creating a cinematic spectacle unlike any I’ve seen before. When it comes to 3-D, this is what we’ve been waiting for.

But for a 3-D movie to truly succeed, it has to have substance behind all the visual “oohs” and “aahs.” Here, the story serves as a rather heavy-handed allegory for the hopelessness one feels after the death of a loved one. There’s a loneliness and emptiness Stone manifests, as seen in her location of choice, and the struggle she faces is a reflection of her emotional state.

There are several moments when giving up seems like the easy and logical option, though an epiphany happens upon her that keeps her fighting. In a moment of clarity she realizes she must endure. After all, without finding the will to live, “Gravity” wouldn’t mean much of anything.

Grade: A

You can follow me on Twitter @JoelCrabtree, or find me on Facebook.

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