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TIFF 2013: GRAVITY Review (5 stars) - Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star in a classic space adventure

 Comment on TIFF 2013: GRAVITY Review (5 stars) - Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star in a classic space adventure

Toronto International Film Festival Review: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are astronauts battling for their safe return to Earth in the 3D space GRAVITY.

Her adventure begins with a murmur originating some 220 miles above the Earth. Medical scientist-turned-astronaut Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) works nervously outside the space station. After all, it’s her first space mission. Luckily, her crew leader is veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) who’s as comfortable on a space walk as if he was jogging back home.

Kowalsky’s jokes, storytelling and easygoing banter with Stone, the other crewmembers as well as the Mission Control staff listening from Earth, launch Gravity, the 3D space adventure from director Alfonso Cuarón with gentle humor and quick likability for its leads. Then, in a snap, Kowalsky and Stone are trapped in space when their fellow shuttle crewmembers are killed by debris from an exploding satellite.

There are dramatic surprises in store from Cuarón, who co-wrote the script with his filmmaker son Jonas. Together they co-create a sci-fi classic, a believable adventure that reminds us just how dangerous space can be — even at the dawn of commercial space travel. It’s also a tale of sacrifice and courage; a true outer space melodrama.

Cuarón continues to be one of the smarted filmmakers working in the blockbuster landscape. His installment in the Harry Potter franchise, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, remains the best movie of the series. Children of Men is a smart, post apocalyptic adventure

More importantly, Gravity unfolds as one of the most beautiful space adventures in recent memory on par with long ago classics like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (Let’s also toss Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 remake).

Yet, instead of 2001-inspired elegance, Alfonso Cuarón and production designer Andy Nicholson show the various space stations and shuttles as low-fi clutter with antiquated computers and hatches straight out of Captain Nemo.

Instead of noisy explosions, there are tense moments of silence and flickering voices via radio waves thanks to the work of soundman Glenn Freemantle and dramatic music from Steven Price.

Finally, there’s the film’s greatest achievement, its incredible 3D images courtesy of cinematography Emmanuel Lubezki.

Most studio action movies fall into the Michael Bay category of pounding explosions and busy action sequences.

Alfonso Cuarón leads his creative team in an entirely different direction.

Watching Stone and Kowalsky struggle to survive in space is like watching an incredible but suspenseful dance. Here, action unfolds like silent fireworks that make more conventional movie explosions feel small by comparison.

Sink into your theater sit; watch the movie and suddenly you experience a sense of weightlessness and a slight sense of what it must feel like in space. Finally, Alfonso Cuarón and his team deliver a 3D movie that really makes a difference.

There are other surprises throughout the movie; many that are worth keeping secret.

Still, it’s worth saying that the film’s performances are every bit as important as the visual effects and the action, not something you can about many action movies.

Casting is art as happenstance and it’s wonderful to see Clooney and Bullock bring the movie alive.

It’s worth noting that Robert Downey Jr. was originally set to play Clooney’s role. While I like Downey Jr. as an actor it’s hard for me to imagine anyone doing a better job that Clooney in the compact but pivotal performance. When it comes to playing a veteran astronaut, Clooney clearly has the right stuff.

Sandra Bullock, who delivers the most surprising and satisfying performance of her career, is wearing the spacesuit only because Angelina Jolie kept turning down the project. Way back when she was behind the wheel of a runaway bus in Speed, Bullock was something of a helpless victim. This time, she stands tall as the hero of the movie.

Watching Jolie in an action role is routine. Watching Bullock fight her way out of an outer space catastrophe, well, that’s new and exciting.

5 star review

Distributor: Warner Brothers

Cast: George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Ed Harris

Screenwriter: Alfonso Cuarón, Jonas Cuarón

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Composer: Steven Price

Cinematographer: Emmanuel Lubezki

Producers: Warner Bros., Esperanto Filmoj, Heyday Films

Rating: PG-13

Running time: 90 minutes

Release Date: October 4, 2013

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