4 out of 5 stars (one of the best of the year)
Most of the time, thrillers are the hardest movies to make because most of the good ideas have been taken. They have numerous subcategories (psychological, action, drama, etc.) that complicate things even more. While each subcategory has films that are highly regarded (The Silence of The Lambs is as psychological today as it was back in 1991), generally speaking, thrillers generally tend to let action take over the storyline without any proper suspense buildup. It’s usually some A-list actor or actress running from guns and shouting out half-witty lines every now and then. Gravity is a dramatic thriller that also works in the action and psychological categories of the genre. It sucks you in and doesn’t let go until the final shot.
The film begins as a simple space mission by two astronauts, space novice Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock in one of her best dramatic roles since A Time To Kill) and wisecracking but experienced Matt Kowalski (George Clooney providing needed comic relief). With Mission Control down on Earth, everything is ship-shape, until a barrage of asteroids come crashing down on the astronauts, killing everyone but them.
Now with little oxygen and loss of contact with Mission Control, Kowalski and Stone must make their way to a neighboring space station while keeping hope as well as their sanity from dying.
Bullock and Clooney carry this movie. That’s a good thing, because they are the ONLY characters in this movie. The third astronaut dies in the opening action scene and Mission Control is unreachable, so it’s up to Clooney and Bullock to make the movie good. Luckily, the film is more concerned with the impact the action has on the characters than the action itself. That’s not to say the action isn’t impactful on us, though. When present, the action gets your heart pumping, making you fear for the character’s lives, an intensity I have not felt since I saw Apollo 13. Bullock’s performance is exceptional. You can’t look away whenever she’s onscreen, which is basically the entire film. The chemistry she shares with Clooney is believable, and you feel her fear as she makes the dangerous journey to the neighboring station.
The cinematography in this film is also quite remarkable. There are several shots where we see space from Ryan’s perspective, almost as if it’s a first-person shooter, but without the shooting. These sequences are especially psychological if seen in 3D (yes, for the first time in 3 or so years, 3D is actually worth the price). The director makes very few shots, choosing to follow the characters in one shot than switch back and forth between far and close shots. When close-ups are used, they are very intense.
The only complaint I have about this movie is that the opening minutes are slow. You sit there waiting for the action to start up, hoping that the story will not bore you to tears. Other than that, Gravity is a thoroughly entertaining psychodrama thriller that should be remembered when picking this years’ Academy Award nominees.
Rated PG-13 for Intense Perilous Sequences, Some Disturbing Images, and Brief Strong Language