With Sandra Bullock free-floating and somersaulting head-over-heels through space, Gravity comes loaded with visual dazzle and technical wizardry. But its greatest stunt is the way Alfonso Cuaron takes a flat premise -- a medical researcher barely trained as an astronaut, floating alone for nearly 90 minutes of screen time -- and makes it an enthralling thriller. Bullock plays Ryan Stone, stranded when the space shuttle explodes, but the peril she's in resembles that of an old-fashioned movie heroine tied to a train track -- only in this 21st-century scenario she has to save herself. As he carries us from one near-fatal crisis to another, Cuaron's story-telling becomes the film's best, most magical special effect.
From then on, Gravity gives a visceral charge to the metaphorical sense of being lost and alone in the universe. Ryan can see small spots of light glimmering in the darkness too far away to offer any comfort. There is no one to talk to except herself. Yet Gravity makes this outlandish situation oddly easy to relate to: it's anyone's nightmare of hearing a job interviewer speak a foreign language, or arriving for a presentation unprepared. It's the terror of: I don't know how to get out of this disaster!
The extravagant praise the film has already gotten makes it sound more perfectly made than it is. It's good that the dialogue is minimal, because what's there, in the screenplay by Cuaron and his son Jonas Cuaron, is often tired or obvious. When Matt asks what Ryan likes about space, she answers, "The silence. I could get used to it." As if we don't know she'll have her chance. Her character has a history (given away in the trailer) that is meant to be heart wrenching, but merely adds a layer of sentimental goo, which a film this good shouldn't need. And the heavy music cues that tell us what to feel and when become annoying.