Movie review: Sandra Bullock is celestial in 'Gravity'

For the News-DemocratOctober 3, 2013 

What It's About

A cinematic marvel, "Gravity" pulls us into an unfamiliar world with remarkable clarity.

In stunning 3-D -- surpassing even "Avatar" and "Life of Pi" -- we watch seasoned astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and a space rookie, medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), outside their shuttle. He is zooming around in a new jet pack, bantering with Houston (Voice sound familiar? It's Ed Harris). She is attending to something important for her study.

Bad news comes fast -- a Russian satellite has exploded, hurling debris their way. Just like that, they are marooned in space while their ship and crew are all gone. Adrift and queasy, Stone must summon the courage to survive while Kowalski calmly lays out their choices. If they can get to the nearby space station, they can be rescued. It's a race against the clock, as fuel and oxygen levels deplete, and communication with ground control has been severed.

The harrowing ordeal is superbly visualized by director Alfonso Cuaron ("Children of Men"), with state-of-the-art visual effects by Tim Webber and breathtaking cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki. Pay the extra fee for 3-D and see this on the biggest screen possible.

Performances

Two of our most beloved movie stars are paired, but it is Sandra Bullock's movie, and another Oscar nomination should come her way. She is astonishing. America's sweetheart ever since her breakthrough "Speed," Bullock, with her down-to-earth demeanor, has always connected with an audience, but as she has aged, there is a noticeable gravitas to her work. As a lonely scientist, whose work has become a lifeline, she faces unfamiliar peril, and holds everyone's attention.

George is his usual jocular self, portraying a guy comfortable in space, but there are personal problems when he's on land.

What Works

The beauty of the cosmos is spectacularly displayed -- the darkness punctuated by stars, galaxies and planets in such a way that you feel you are there, too. The isolation that the humans in space feel, while having a front-row seat to the heavens, is an interesting contrast.

Because of this celestial canvas, there is an awe that envelopes the film. We understand the bigger questions facing the stranded souls. If they fight to live, can they be reborn? With such despair, can faith see people through? (I can't say more, for spoilers would abound).

The achievements here are extraordinary - a sense of wonder permeates the entire work, and it's a special experience to take it all in, with eyes wide open.

What Doesn't Work

The dialogue is sparse, preferring to show, not say. It can get a little 'inside baseball' with the laws of physics.

But truly an outstanding achievement when you think of what all had to transpire to make this look real and become a grand spectacle at the same time.

4 stars out of 4

Director: Alfonso Cuaron

Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Length: 1:30

Rated: PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language

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