US | 2013 | Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Logline: A medical engineer and an astronaut struggle to survive in earth’s orbit after an accident leaves them adrift in space.
Apparently Angelina Jolie twice turned down the role of Ryan Stone, the medical engineer with not an awful lot of flight simulator landing success to her credit. Natalie Portman was then approached, followed by tests from Rachel Weisz, Naomi Watts, Marion Cotillard, Abbie Cornish, Carey Mulligan, Sienna Miller, Scarlett Johansson, Blake Lively, Rebecca Hall, and Olivia Wilde. Finally the role went to Sandra Bullock. And she’ll probably get an Oscar nod for performance. Not that I think it’s anything special, but I’m prepared to put money on a nomination.
Which brings me to my main issue with this extraordinary movie. The two lead roles, which are the only on screen roles in the whole movie. George Clooney plays Matt Kowlaski, the cowboy in a spacesuit (in a role intended for Robert Downey Jr.), and Ed Harris is the voice of Misson Control in Houston. And that’s pretty much it. Oh, there’s another astronaut, but you never see his face, and he doesn’t say anything of note.
George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, two actors better known for their comedy and light drama, than their attempts at serious drama, two of the most recognizable A-list Hollywood actors. It just didn’t work for me. All those female actors who tested are too familiar, except perhaps Rebecca Hall. A movie like Gravity demands unknowns or close to it. Not matinee idols.
Cuarón is an immensely talented director, anyone who’s seen Y Tu Mamá También (2001) and Children of Men (2006) can attest to that. The screenplay to Gravity was co-written between Cuarón and his 32-year-old son Jonás Cuarón, and as a visual narrative it’s sensational. But the dialogue is frequently corny and mostly unnecessary. A version of Gravity sans dialogue could work as profoundly as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), or Solaris (1972).
Gravity is without a doubt a technical marvel; the photo-realistic CGI and model work is astonishing. I’m tempted to see the movie a second time on the giant IMAX screen where I’m sure it would be nothing short of breath taking. It’s a shame Bullock and Clooney were cast; their combined smoothed out plasticity weighs the movie down (pun intended).
Steven Price’s score brings gravitas to the movie’s lofty setting (puns unintended), and frequently provides punctuation and tension where normally a sound effect might. Keep in mind for approximately 85 minutes Gravity is in space or zero g. It’s an ambitious movie to say the least, and for the most part Cuarón pulls it off.