Film Review: Gravity

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Plot: When space debris cripples a group of astronauts on mission, first time astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) must survive the depths of space with the help of experienced astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) in order to get home.

When you read this review, it’s going to seem like I hate this movie. Let me be very clear: I enjoyed Gravity. I recommend seeing it. It’s a solid movie. But what I’m not going to do is give it a pass on elements I feel are crucial to filmmaking just because of how amazing and extraordinary the visuals are. While I like this movie better than Avatar for example, I left Gravity in a similar fashion. It’s amazing to look at, but at some point, you need to offer me something else, and Gravity fails more times then not in that department. But let’s start things off on a positive note.

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The visuals and cinematography in this film are incredible, making for a wonderful movie going experience. The intricacy and detail of the environments will keep your eyes glued to the screen. The cinematographer (Emmanuel Lubezki) needs to be commended. I hope Roger Deakins doesn’t have a movie coming out later this year, because he will once again lose at the Academy Awards. Alfonso Cuaron’s direction also needs to be commended. The best moments in this film are simply watching the astronauts float through space as they try and hang onto anything they can. One of my fears coming into this movie was that it would just be watching people float around in space at different angles for two hours, but they give Stone different problems and scenarios to get out of. One of the best decisions Cuaron makes is to not really incorporate the sound of the debris hitting the space stations. It remains focused on the characters and intense score, which composer Steven Price absolutely knocks out of the park. The score might be my favorite part of the whole movie.

What they needed for this film to work were two great actors, and that’s exactly what they got. George Clooney’s dialogue at the beginning is a little hokey and cliché, but with Clooney at the helm, you instantly like him anyway. He and Sandra Bullock have great chemistry. But this really is more about Bullock’s character, Ryan Stone. The film simply does not work without Sandra Bullock. I’m not sure what other actress could have pulled this off. You immediately sympathize with her because of the caliber of acting going on. Unfortunately, it’s the writing of her character where the criticisms start coming in.

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One more month at the script stage could have worked wonders for this film. Stone’s dialogue at times is just horrendous, and I felt bad for Bullock having to deliver some of these lines. But it’s Stone’s back story with her daughter that feels so forced, it really takes you out of the movie. It’s like the writers (Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Cuaron) knew there would be people like me who wouldn’t be as enamored with just the visuals, so they hashed together the most emotionally manipulative back story you could think of, and it’s just a huge miss. I still cared about the character because of Bullock’s acting, but the writing is just lazy, lazy, lazy.

While the intensity was great all the way through, the tension was hit or miss, which surprised me. As much as I loved the sound editing in the picture, I will criticize Cuaron’s directing in that it focused too much on the environment, and not enough on the characters at times. This was a story and situation that should have been non-stop tension from beginning to end, but because the camera is so focused on everything around the astronauts, I ultimately didn’t feel a lot of tension for the characters themselves. With something like 2011’s Drive, the driving scenes are certainly riveting, but the film works in spades because the actual tension is almost entirely focused on Ryan Gosling’s character, which makes it so brilliant. With Gravity, there are times where it’s just too much hoopla in space. Although I will say the last fifteen minutes really does grab you, and gave me the type of suspense I had been looking for throughout the entire movie.

Before the last act though, there’s a particular scene that really brought this film down significantly. Without spoiling it too much, there’s a sequence where Stone is talking with someone on the radio. It is an absolutely torturous scene where Bullock’s acting can’t even save it. At this point, I just wanted the movie to end.

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I get that this is a survival film, but the reason why Cast Away or The Grey work a lot better than this is not only do those films have great actors, but unlike Gravity, there are strong character arcs, as opposed to one that’s just forced. Once again, let me reiterate – go see Gravity. The movie is visually stunning. But just because a film hits high marks in every technical category you can think of, I’m not going to get on my knees and scream it’s praises. Guess what other movies were visually groundbreaking? Terminator 2, The Matrix, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Star Wars…but do we praise these films years later for their visuals? No. We remember the characters. We remember the story. I am sure this film will get plenty of Oscars and accolades, but for me, it’s good…just not great.

Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow’s fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.

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