Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Gravity

Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron

Produced by: Alfonso Cuaron
David Heyman

Screenplay by: Alfonso Cuaron
Jonas Cuaron

Starring: Sandra Bullock
George Clooney

Music by: Steven Price

Cinematography by: Emmanuel Lubezki

Editing by: Alfonso Cuaron
Mark Sanger

Studio(s): Esperanto Filmoj
Heyday Films

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Release date(s): August 28, 2013 (Venice Film Festival, Premiere)
October 3, 2013 (Australia)
October 4, 2013 (United States)
November 8, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 91 minutes

Country(s): United States
United Kingdom

Language: English

Production budget: $100 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $476, 442, 205

Hey hey hey; perhaps a strange way to start, but what can I say, I've gotta start somewhere? On a more serious note, this particular review, which I think rather appropriate given the coincidence of circumstance, is dedicated to one of my personal heroes, Eddie Guerrero, who passed away on November 13, 2005. He is sorely missed, though his legacy lives on and continues to inspire me and many others to achieve their goals in their lives to the best of their abilities. Viva La Raza, Mi Compadre!

Today's film up for review is Gravity. In case you haven't heard (by now, I'm sure you have, but alas...), Gravity is perhaps the most talked-about film of the year so far, having garnered critical praise that is really quite overwhelming, and has seen it garner comparisons to the likes of canonical science-fiction classic as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien. More surprisingly, it has taken the box-office by storm since its release, with an intake close to $500 million showing that there is an audience demand for this sort of thing. As with my last review, Captain Phillips, there is a bit of contextual stuff to get out of the way, so here comes the proverbial 'brief' digression. The film is directed by Alfonso Cuaron, most famous for his defining 2001 film Y Tu Mama Tambien (one of the best films of the naughties, bar none) and his 2004 entry into the Harry Potter series, The Prisoner Of Azkaban, arguably the most acclaimed of the series (though my personal favourite is Deathly Hallows, Part 1). Most notable, especially the context of my time as a film reviewer, his last film, 2006's Children Of Men, stands as the only movie about which I can say outright that I was dead wrong in my opines. The first time I saw it, I was largely nonplussed, and would go so far as to think it was dull, however, since then, it has grown on me to the point that I think it is a legitimate masterpiece, and only seems to get better every time I see it. Other historical points with regards to reviewing include the fact that two of the primary players, George Clooney and Emmanuel Lubezki are both former Thin White Dude awards winners (Best Actor for 2010's The American and Best Cinematography for 2011's The Tree Of Life respectively), so there's a lot of talent clearly on the cards. Now, with that out of the way, here's the brief synopsis (I mean brief this time!): Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (Clooney) are two astronauts who survive the destruction of the space shuttle they are working on and their attempt to return to Earth. That's all you need to know, and I wouldn't say I told you so, but...

Starting with the good, Sandra Bullock delivers an understated and subtle, yet in many ways rather complex and virtuoso lead performance as Stone. Bullock, who was great alongside Melissa McCarthy earlier this year in The Heat, shows us the other side of her acting palette. Eccentricity and nervousness are replaced with this sort-of quietly controlled performance, appropriate for her character's almost purgatorial status of existing as a purely functional being. Without hamming it up or going through the wringer of typical histrionics, she suggests a deep-rooted sadness and a lonely soul with nothing but her work. Clooney, is of course great as Kowalski, nobody delivering sharp-witted charm and motivation quite like him, but Bullock is just brilliant. Also, the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is extraordinary. Having collaborated with Cuaron before, stylistically the similarities can be drawn to the long takes used on Children Of Men, but this trait is pushed to the outer limits on Gravity, with the mobile camera giving us not only some genuinely beautiful photography, but also replicating the feeling of zero-gravity and weightlessness. The Arri Alexa-shot cinematography serves the purpose of telling a masterful story while also giving us some images which could stand alone as moments outside of a particular time-space and tickle our subconscious mind. Perhaps I am a bit bold of rhetoric, but I don't think I am amiss in saying that I think this is the best cinematography I have seen in a movie since Roger Deakins' work on 2007's The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. In the visual regard, I must also comment on the seamless interaction between the cinematography and visual effects. The visual effects and computer-digimation on this film are of such a quality that you are unable to tell the difference between the two. That's a highly commendable achievement, for what we have here as a result is something that you don't necessarily acknowledge as standing out, but simply sit back and let your breath be taken away, and let me tell, that happened on several occasions. Not only is a treat on a visual level (the 3D, incidentally, is the most immersive and intelligently used in a film to date), but it sounds terrific. The sound design/editing is appropriate both from a storytelling standpoint and that of a scientific one, for the obvious silence of space becomes an aural metaphor for a sort of void and absence. Also, some of the noises involving air pressure are genuinely startling, to the point that you almost have to adjust your hearing after. The score too, by Steven Price, is great. Of a transcendent nature akin to the great Klaus Schulze's space operas, it touches you on a deep, emotionally resonate level, and yet if you actually listen to it, is rather experimental. Full of pulsating synths and ebbing beats, there is something of an almost drone sound to it, ensuring that it maintains a truly otherworldly and intimidating sound to it. It also has a lot in it's design of simulating the atmosphere (or lack thereof) of space, with these sharp sounds quickly ascending and descending in volume. It's another one of the aspect to this simply breathtaking movie that shows off the collaborative nature of cinema. However, while it is a collaborative medium, one cannot overlook the power of this projects resident auteur, Alfonso Cuaron. Seemingly going from strength to strength, this is a director quite clearly operating at the peak of his artistic powers, and what he has given us in the fruit of his labours is really unique. On the one hand, you have what at time aesthetically feels like a b-movie, being a genre pic at a snappy, efficient ninety minutes that is watertight, and on the other, for all of it's massive budget, this is like a $100 million art-house movie directed by Ingmar Bergman and starring Liv Ullmann. Comparisons, though complimentary, are perhaps a disservice to Cuaron and the film itself. Cuaron has made two masterpieces already in Y Tu Mama Tambien and Children Of Men, and thematically this continues along that same long, hard road of the searching for self-discovery and a meaning in life: it doesn't matter if he's working with $5 million, £49 million or $100 million, the results, though differing, are intrinsically of the same vein. Wholly accessible as a rollercoaster thrill-ride and a simple yet effective philosophical piece, Gravity is one of those pictures that comes along and does just about everything right.

Now, as you can gather, I absolutely loved Gravity, and during the course of my immediate musings on the film, I tried to think where I would put this in terms it's ranking as a masterpiece. Since it's 2010 release, Toy Story 3 has been the standard bearer of my seven-year career as a film reviewer, for I feel it is a perfect movie. While Gravity is up there, and I can get past some of the things that would ordinarily stand out as sore thumbs, the fact is is that they still exist and I have to look at it as such. Story-wise, it's nothing particularly new that we haven't seen before in a number of other movies. Also, some of the dialogue is fairly cliche-ridden, and it does spell out a bit too much at one point what the movie is getting at thematically: When we (when I say we, I mean me) already get the underlying theme of the picture, you don't need to say it in those exact words. 

Normally, those things would stand out as major script issues and downgrade the movie, but the fact is that it is done in such an engaging and innovative manner. To say Gravity's redundant is akin to saying Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ is superfluous because The Crucifixion has been depicted countless times in the near-thousand years since The Four Gospels. I'm not going over the same points again in recounting my admiration for the movie, so I'll just throw in an anecdote: walking down the stairs of The Movie House, Dublin Road, I was acutely aware of my senses, and continuing on down towards the number 20 bus at City Hall, I heard sounds, I saw sights, the wind was blowing in my face and I felt life. This was when I became truly aware of the film's true power, and it's times like this I am truly grateful for all the opportunities I have to participate as an audience member in the true magic of cinema. Put simply, Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity is incredible, majestic cinema of the highest order.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.9/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Awestruck (one of the few times I've left with my mouth open, breathless, and in tears, all at the same time)

P.S. At the time of this review, I have only seen the film once, but in my rating I'm taking into account that the subtleties of Cuaron's far-cast fishing net may well have escaped me and that there is much more at play than the sheer exhilaration of experiencing it for the first time.

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