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'Gravity' Review: Cuaron's Exhilarating 3-D Space Ballet Is Anchored by Bullock and Clooney

Photo of Matt Mueller By Matt Mueller | Thompson on Hollywood October 3, 2013 at 1:23PM

If Alfonso Cuaron's hypnotic, exhilarating space thriller "Gravity" isn't thematically as potent as "Children Of Men," his allegory about an infertile world, it is nonetheless a mesmerizing experience from start to finish, an extraordinary visual triumph. The film deploys 3-D in prodigious fashion, turns the carnage of disintegrating space shuttles and hurtling satellite debris into a beautiful if perilous ballet (scored magnificently by Steven Price), and benefits in differing ways from the turns of its two star performers, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.
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Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone in Gravity
Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone in Gravity

If Alfonso Cuaron's hypnotic, exhilarating space thriller "Gravity" isn't thematically as potent as "Children Of Men," his allegory about an infertile world, it is nonetheless a mesmerizing experience from start to finish, an extraordinary visual triumph. The film deploys 3-D in prodigious fashion, turns the carnage of disintegrating space shuttles and hurtling satellite debris into a beautiful if perilous ballet (scored magnificently by Steven Price), and benefits in differing ways from the turns of its two star performers, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. 

"Gravity"'s superlative craft, ambition and intelligence have propelled the picture into awards-season discussion, with Bullock furnishing a film that was crafted predominantly on hard drives the human touch it needs to reach earthbound audiences. 

Self-contained and disembodied from the outset, "Gravity" exerts an instant narrative pull: a space shuttle, 375 miles above earth, floats into view with three astronauts performing various tasks against the backdrop of black space and the blue planet below. Mission commander is Matt Kowalsky (Clooney), a wisecracking veteran whose primary job seems to be bantering with mission control ("Houston, I have a bad feeling about this mission"), marveling at the view and spinning around the shuttle with his jetpack. 

Queasy first-timer Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock), meanwhile, is hard at work applying an undefined technology she's invented onto the Hubble Telescope. Stone can barely keep her lunch down and, we later discover, is mired in a depressive state having lost a four-year-old daughter. We never see the face of a third astronaut, although we do see what's left of it after this relative idyll is shattered when a missile sets off a domino effect of colliding satellites, creating a field of metallic debris traveling at 50,000 miles per hour and turning their orbit into a lethal shredding zone every 90 minutes. 

This article is related to: Sandra Bullock, Alfonso Cuaron, George Clooney, Gravity, Venice Film Festival, Reviews, Reviews


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.