TIFF 2013: GRAVITY Review

by     Posted 1 year, 101 days ago

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In the universe, we are so infinitesimal, and that realization is so scary and so beautiful.  We’re on this little ball of dirt and water, and we live rich, complex lives, as the vastness of cold, dark space surrounds us.  Our problems on Earth feel so insurmountable, and yet they’re nothing compared to the void above.  We look up at the sky, and feel wonder, fear, freedom, and despair.  With his space-set dramatic thriller Gravity, writer-director Alfonso Cuarón has conjured these emotions in one of the most immersive films I’ve ever seen.  Through Cuarón’s movie, we see not only the fearsomeness of space and the awe of our planet, but all of the dazzling effects, breathtaking action, and electric thrills are in service to a sad, moving tale of being trapped by hopelessness and fighting to endure.

Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is in outer space with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) to install special equipment on the Hubble telescope.  Stone only has about six months of training but the chatty Kowalsky is at ease and in control.  But as the two are working to complete the mission, debris from a destroyed Russian satellite begins raining down on their shuttle, and a desperate Stone struggles to survive by finding her way home through the emptiness of space.

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The technical bravura on display in Gravity is utterly remarkable.  Special equipment had to be invented in order to realize Cuarón’s vision for the film, and the hard work that went into creating that equipment has been well worth the effort.  I can’t remember the last time I was completely immersed in a film from start to finish.  The movie begins with a 20-minute long unbroken shot that never for a moment feels like Cuarón showing off.  On the contrary, we quickly stop noticing as we turn our attention to the plot and characters, but we can always feel the lack of a cut.  The scene is perfectly paced without a single cut to guide the action, and instead Cuarón relies on camera placement, music, and the performances.

That’s all we get in that opening, and what we get takes our breath away.  We forget to breathe.  We forget that Stone can’t die in the first twenty minutes otherwise there’s no movie.  We jump at every piece of debris that rips apart the shuttle even though there’s no accompanying sound effect (Cuarón is scientifically faithful by having no sound in the vacuum of space).  Cuarón’s complete, exacting control makes us feel out of control as we go tumbling into the void.  The movie also proves that even in moments of absolute terror, the reassuring voice of George Clooney is one of the most powerful forces in the solar system if not the galaxy.

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However, the film’s true star is Bullock.  Most of the movie rests on her performance, and Stone has to face more than just the immediate, grab-on-to-something-anything-seriously-I’m-freaking-out-here troubles that come when a field of shrapnel the size of space station comes headed her way.  Stone is also facing some serious emotional trauma, and Bullock does a wonderful job of taking the character’s pain and not simply becoming mopey or sullen.  She’s distant, and that distance is represented by one of the many visual metaphors layered throughout the film.  The emptiness of space fits her better than the life she has 372 miles below on Earth.

The visual cues are one of the many ways Cuarón organically weaves in the film’s themes and emotions with the surface thrills that get our blood pumping.  Throughout the picture, Stone is either struggling to get free of a tether or grasping to hold on to something.  She’s both trapped by her circumstances and clinging to the edge of life.  And for all of the chaos surrounding Stone, Earth remains below—constant and stunning.  The question is how hard she’s willing to fight to get back, and if she feels like there’s any point in returning.

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Stone’s journey is a potent reminder that hope is good, but perseverance is better.  Hope is almost like a wish. Hope is optimism, a reason to keep going, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But perseverance is the ability keep going, and Gravity celebrates and emphasizes that quality.  If life were ever deemed small, it would be against the vastness of space.  Gravity shows that’s when life matters the most if you assume your life is worth living.  It would be undoubtedly terrifying to float out further into space until you perish, but the determination to return, to hang on, and to bridge the distance is what’s inspiring, and it’s a sentiment that’s earned from the gorgeous craftsmanship on display.

I can’t emphasize enough the majesty of Gravity.  It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  Before the movie was even over, I wanted to watch a Blu-ray stacked with special features so I could learn about the making of the movie.  I wanted to own Steven Price’s dynamic, stirring score.  I wanted to go right back into the theater and see it again in IMAX 3D.  Longtime readers will know I have no love for 3D, and while I’m sure Gravity will still work in 2D, it’s a movie where the IMAX 3D experience is ideal.  Don’t go for a half-measure; Cuarón certainly didn’t.

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Gravity is cinema at its most powerful where honest, human drama meets daring spectacle.  The film is unabashedly earnest in its emotion and unrelentingly forceful in its action.  Alfonso Cuarón has crafted a movie that is terrifying, dazzling, bold, and triumphant.  And yet these adjectives feel small against the glorious and profound backdrop of outer space and the story Cuarón has created within it.  Gravity holds us in thrall for every single second, and we never want to let go.

Rating: A

For all of our TIFF 2013 coverage, click here.  Here are links to all of my TIFF 2013 reviews:




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  • João Paulo

    Great review. I’m crazy to see this movie. I’m a huge fan of Cuáron works.

  • Sam

    Just saw the screening at TIFF. Matt says it perfectly in his review, this is an exceptional movie. The performances were great, the visuals were unbelievable, and your heart is racing the entire time. A true masterpiece that pushes the envelope for filmmaking. See it on the biggest screen you possibly can!

  • krstphr

    JUST TAKE MY DAMN MONEY

  • Aditya Nugraha

    Finally, an rate “A” from Goldberg. :P

    • Old Soldier

      ….aaaaannnnnnnd, it wasn’t made in France.

  • anders

    it’s inevitable that people will see Goldberg wrote this and start a bitchfest, but I think it was a really well written review. Didn’t care one way or the other before, but now I’m really excited to see this

  • stylus59

    wow, an A from Goldberg. the only other A-level reviews I’ve seen by him are Die Hards 1 and 3

  • doc

    Why does almost everyone who posts on this website act like a such an ass?

  • http://zoelogie.tumblr.com/ Baby Jean

    OMG, Matt, you gave it an A ! I only browsed through the review as I want to see it with a fresh mind, but this is now my most anticipated movie of the year-end.

  • http://modmyi.com/forums/iphone-4-new-skins-themes-launches/740147-neurotech-hd.html#post5637502 Jay

    IMAX 3D it is, then!

  • Johnny C

    WOW.. “A”…. Goldberg’s rating are usualy from B- to E… didn’t really had much of choice to give a good review when Cameron wrote that it was the best movie ever just a couples days ago!!!!

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  • http://www.michaelpshipley.com/ Michael P. Shipley

    He’s so vague. Did he like the movie or not. Sheesh.

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  • Go Home

    Doesn’t mean your opinion is correct.

  • jasonca

    have you not realized yet, he’s intentionally misspelling and trolling to fuck with you?

  • jasonca

    I’m laughing at you people right now!

  • jasonca

    lol. I don’t think they will catch on.

  • jasonca

    I appligize!

  • jasonca

    lol. YOU WERE FEEDING THE TROLL. I was frolicing around with him

  • jasonca

    …because I’m enjoying it. I’m cheering you on. I’m your biggest fan. lol

  • doc

    Fun and watchable? So NONONONONONONONONONO for two and a half hours is your idea of fun?

  • TrollHunter5000

    oh piss off you child!!! its fucks like you that most the crap in cinemas is made for, you brainless gimp!

  • doc

    Very mature.

  • PANTS

    He’s the village idiot/troll around these parts. He also posts on every single Chris Nolan article, much to the annoyance of everyone trying to have a genuine debate. This particular specimen often displays belligerent behavior patterns and has difficulty playing nice with others. I recommend a full lobotomy of the frontal lobe.

  • http://zoelogie.tumblr.com/ Baby Jean

    Dude, it’s reaaally getting old…(~_~)

  • doctor_robot

    it’s “faggot”, you dunce.

  • http://zoelogie.tumblr.com/ Baby Jean

    You do have an active imagination, I’ll give you that n__n

  • Proximo

    Grown Ups, Transformers, G.I. Joe…damn this guy is hilarious!! “Originality is not talent”, now that’s epic!!

  • J. Kimble

    Who is your daddy and what does he do?

  • Abhi

    This dude is seriously ill….get some life dude….i know ur retarded twilight brain needs some help…so go home and talk to your mother…she can teach some basic sense of talking

  • Chris Nolan Super Fraud

    Hey now, this guy isn’t me. When I do my trolling it’s hilarious and satirical. Half the time people don’t even know it’s me. This guy isn’t any good at all. He tries to hard.

  • Strong Enough

    he gave the worlds end a good score

  • http://www.michaelpshipley.com/ Michael P. Shipley

    I was being sarcastic!

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