© 2013 Ray Wong

As science fiction thrillers go, Gravity is a rare treat. It is big in scale and spectacles, but also intimate in terms of human drama.

Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a medical engineer enlisted by NASA to install an instrument on the Hubble telescope. Accompanying her on the space shuttle Explore is veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), who is doing his final mission before retiring. During one of the procedures, while they're spacewalking, Mission Control (Ed Harris) notifies them that the Russians have demolished one of the Russian satellites, and it has created a chain reaction where debris are heading their way at the speed of bullets.

With little time to change course, the space shuttle and the crew are being bombarded by the debris. Stone gets separated and is spinning out of control into space. With only six month in space training, Stone has no experience in disaster like this. Eventually, Kowalski finds and rescues her. They realize that the Explorer has been destroyed and everyone onboard is dead, and communication with Mission Control is gone. Their only option is to find their way to the Russian space station. As their oxygen is quickly depleting and a new wave of debris is fast approaching, it's a race between life an death.

Sandra Bullock (The Heat) gives one of the strongest performances of her career as Ryan Stone. The story is told almost entirely from her point of view and she carries the film on her shoulders. Bullock's portrayal of the scientist with deep personal regrets combines both brain and heart to make the character believable. Her emotions range from condescension to utter fear and confusion, and she is convincing with her silent resolve and inner strength in the direst situations, when her character is all alone.

George Clooney (The Descendants) also nails it as astronaut Matt Kowalski. He portrays the character as the badass space cowboy with a great sense of humor and humanity. Compared to Bullock, his screen time is relatively limited in this largely supporting and pivotal role. There is one scene where he gives Dr. Stone a lifesaving tip that showcases Clooney's charm, sex appeal and acting versatility.

Written by director Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men) and son Jonás, the screenplay is actually rather bare-bone. The plot is straightforward -- it's simply a story of survival. There are not a whole lot of twists and surprises, and the dialogue may edge on the cliche side. Yet the Cuaróns have crafted a suspenseful thriller nonetheless by stringing a chain of events that never leaves Dr. Stone. The events are larger than life with the vast backdrop of space and Earth, and yet the story is surprisingly intimate as we delve into Stone's mind and heart as she tries to survive the unimaginable with little time to mourn.

While the screenplay may be the weakest link, the rest is purely spectacular. Cuarón's attention to details and how he stages the actions and events and space are jaw-dropping. The special effects are stunning, and the action sequences actually pull the audience in, rarely letting go. With the deft use of close ups, reflections, and long shots, he has created a poetic rendering of disasters in space, and that is unlike anything I've seen since, perhaps, yet another disaster movie, Titanic. Cuarón's intense direction, paired with Bullock's and Clooney's impeccable performances, has created an all-immersive experience that is both spectacular and intimate. He has pushed the cinematic envelope further by using all the dazzling technologies and special effects to tell a very human story. Such gravity for a "popcorn" sci-fi thriller!

Stars: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Writers: Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, disturbing images and language
Running Time: 90 minutes


Script - 8
Performance - 8
Direction - 9
Cinematography - 10
Music/Sound - 9
Editing - 8
Production - 10

Total - 8.3 out of 10.0 

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