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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.
Sandra Bullock in 'Gravity'
Sandra Bullock in 'Gravity'

Without revealing too much, the script by Cuaron and his son Jonas intersperses the hopelessness of their situation, lost in the black silence with seemingly no hope of getting home, with the desperate human compulsion to cling on to life. Ultimately, the film is about the rebirth of Bullock's character; at one point, Cuaron and Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki even frame her like a fetus in the womb as she sheds her outer skin (spacesuit) and allows herself a moment's respite, floating in zero gravity in a temporary space-station refuge. 

With Cuaron and Lubezki applying a carefully calibrated patina of gorgeousness to "Gravity," Bullock's smooth, unlined face, pixie haircut and pilates-toned body are the perfect physical accompaniment to the storytelling, and her performance serves as the compelling emotional linchpin. As for Clooney, his wisecracking ends up becoming much more than simply light relief as "Gravity" hurtles towards its conclusion.

What's astonishing to realize is that, whenever the actors are floating in space and not filmed in the interior of various pods, shuttles and space stations, the only thing that's real is their faces. Every other element, from spacesuits to helmets to crumbling shuttles, debris and bodily fluids (a tear springs loose when Stone decides all is lost), was created using digital effects. 

Besides being the single best advertisement for 3-D since "Avatar," "Gravity"'s images are so pristinely realized, and Cuaron's long, lingering shots allow for phenomenal sequences of astronauts bashing into metal, parachute silk and one another, that the experience, while often unsettling and frightening, becomes pure cinematic nirvana. Memories in the film business may be short but, if anyone needed reminding, "Gravity" reaffirms Cuaron’s position as a filmmaker of uniquely thrilling excellence.

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.