‘Gravity’ demonstrates ambition, execution

George Clooney in "Gravity."
October 13, 2013

Big is most certainly better with "Gravity," the latest film from ambitious, visionary director Alfonso Cuaron. By that, I mean if you have ever contemplated taking a trip up north to check out Wilmington's Penn Riverfront IMAX theater, let "Gravity" be your siren song.

It is a film not merely to be viewed, but experienced. And for those who bemoan that "Avatar" was a weak entry into the "future of film" category, let this stand as your point of reference. Technically astonishing, "Gravity" gives reason to why going to the movies can still be an event.

Beginning with one of the most marvel-inducing opening shots in recent memory (those with affinity for Cuaron's "Children of Men" may be familiar with the director's prowess with uninterrupted single takes), "Gravity" immediately jettisons us to a locale high above Earth where a trio of astronauts are running some "routine" repair and maintenance on a satellite.

In that one, sweeping 15-minute scene, we are told all we need, narratively speaking. We meet: veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (played by George Clooney), who is aiming to break a spacewalk record with this voyage; rookie Dr. Ryan Stone (played by Sandra Bullock), who is determined but fights her fears with every movement, and "Pincushion" (which isn't his character name, but you can pretty much tell he'll be the first to go when stuff gets real and they run into trouble).

We also learn that there is debris from a shattered satellite that is making its way toward them, cutting short their mission and causing them to retreat to their craft. Anyone who's seen the previews already knows that simple task becomes quite complicated when shrapnel is randomly piercing everything in its wake. It sends Dr. Stone hurling above Earth with increasingly spotty transmission from Kowalski or command center.

The fact that this appears to have been shot in one uninterrupted narrative only lends to the film's intimacy and urgency. The camera largely follows the spinning Stone, sometimes inside her helmet, as she attempts to fight panic, regain her bearings and focus on rescue.

It is filled with visuals that mark the distinguished director's career, from his breakout "Y Tu Mama Tambien," to "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (which many, including myself, feel is the peak of the series), and "Children of Men."

"Gravity's" story, co-written by his son Jonas is both straightforward yet resonant: a "what if" scenario that preys upon our most primal fears of isolation, suffocation and will. It all largely falls on Bullock's shoulders which, truth be told, I was skeptical could really handle such...well, gravity. I'm happy to report those fears were unfounded, as she has delivered her best role to date, not only convincing us she floating in zero gravity, but that she is just as surprised as we are at her steel nerves in moments of sheer terror. Clooney's role as a cocky spacejock is more of a comfortable fit for his style, but that does not mean he doesn't moonwalk all over his part.

"Gravity" demonstrates the kind of ambition and execution that makes venturing to the theater such a worthwhile endeavor. And the larger the screen on which it is witnessed, the better the opportunity to heighten its enveloping appeal. It is the type of film that, after its efficient 90-minute runtime, will make you thankful for your ability to place both feet firmly on the ground so that you may stand and applaud.