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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Gravity is a knockout. It’s also a rare example of a mainstream movie that defies pigeonholing. It is science-fiction? Yes, in the broadest sense, but it’s the fundamental human story that matters most. Is it a showcase for dazzling visual effects? Yes again, but they exist to illustrate (as seamlessly as possible) the main character’s journey, not to show off a lot of cinematic bells and whistles. Is it a highbrow think-piece in the tradition of 2001: A Space Odyssey or simply a piece of entertainment? The answer is simple: it’s both. Co-screenwriter Jonás Cuarón says he wanted to take audiences on a thrill ride but admits that he and his father (director and screenwriting partner Alfonso Cuarón) were thinking in larger, metaphoric terms as well.

In many ways the most important ingredient in Gravity is Sandra Bullock. Without her movie-star charisma and everywoman relatability, the film wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. It is essential that we identify with her character and connect with her roller-coaster swell of feelings as she finds herself adrift in outer space. I hesitate to describe her adventure any further, as I think audiences should experience the journey for themselves.

George Clooney is ideal as her lighthearted partner in the space mission; his casting is as canny as Bullock’s. Cuarón counts on the friendly, familiar personas of these stars to make us feel comfortable as we begin our odyssey into the unknown.

It takes a supremely confident filmmaker to trust his content (and cast) by shooting long, unbroken takes, but that is the visual hallmark of this daring film. Cuarón doesn’t feel the need to show off, and he knows that Bullock and Clooney will hold our attention. (I can’t wait to see the making-of documentary to learn how he and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki accomplished their goals, using unprecedented techniques and custom-made machinery.

Gravity is a genuine original in every possible way: involving and immersive, moving and memorable. It’s definitely worth seeing in 3-D, although the real dimensionality lies in the concept and the screenplay as much as any photographic technique.

For once, at least, the hype over a new Hollywood movie is justified.