Genre films: they are the films that make all of the money at the box office, and yet they rarely get attention from critics and film historians. Yet there are certain genre films that are so good, so creative and so risky that they demand everyone’s attention. Whether it be Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or Steven Spielberg’s Jaws there are exceptions to the rule. The latest exception to the rule actually builds off of these two films to create one of the most technologically impressive and well-directed films in cinematic history. Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity is not just one of the best films of the year. It’s a film for the ages.
Gravity follows Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), an astronaut who finds herself without a ride back to Earth after a debris incident damages her crew’s space shuttle. With oxygen running low and the debris field’s imminent return, Stone and surviving crewmember Kowalski (George Clooney) must find a new way home. The film is directed by Alfonso Cuaron, who also wrote the script with his son Jonas.
This is a film that is entirely reliant on its visual imagery, and Alfonso Cuaron uses this as an opportunity to show that he is one of the best directors working today. Cuaron smartly uses imagery to tell his story, and while some may complain about the film’s “simplistic” storyline, there is a lot there in the imagery (especially when it comes to letting go and faith). Every set piece is breathtaking in its beauty and intense in its action. Cuaron’s trademark tracking shots are also back and better than ever (the opening shot is an instant classic and the second shot isn’t afraid to test the boundaries of filmmaking).
It also seems that Cuaron’s ambition on this project caused everyone else on the crew to up his or her game. Enough can’t be said of director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki. He’s a true master of his art form, and his work on this film might just be his best work yet. The tracking shots and the physics of light in space push Lubezki to his limits, but he fully delivers with some of cinema’s most awe-inspiring images. Enough also can’t be said about the sound design, which makes sure that it plays an important role in the film despite sound not existing in space, and the visual effects make sure that you feel like you are in space with these characters constantly.
The only sign of weakness in this film is ultimately with the acting. Cuaron’s presence is so large in this film that not much is required of the actors despite Sandra Bullock and George Clooney being asked to be the only two actors in the film for its entire duration. Sandra Bullock does some fine work. However, you never for a second believe this is Ryan Stone instead of Sandra Bullock, and you do see a bit of strain in her performance when Cuaron finally relinquishes the stage to her in a pivotal scene in an escape pod. George Clooney is another actor who has a very difficult time disappearing into rules so it’s good that the film uses him as more of a plot device and tries to rely on his charm as much as possible. It’s actually one of his stronger performances in a while.
Gravity is going to be a film that we are going to be talking about for a long time.