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Movie Review: “Gravity” (Take 1)

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Gravity

(Note: We have run two reviews this week of “Gravity.” See Shawn Kotzen’s take here.

Alfonso Cuaron, best known for directing the outstanding “Children of Men,” “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” and the best of the Harry Potter movies (“Prisoner of Azkaban“) returns from a seven-year hiatus with “Gravity.” It was worth the wait.

A rare film shot in 3D that isn’t a crushing disappointment, “Gravity” is set almost entirely in space. Clocking in at just 90 minutes, this is no bloated, slam-bang, shoot-’em-up adventure in the tradition of “Pacific Rim.” It’s not even, really, science fiction.

“Gravity” is something very rare indeed: a minimalist story set in space. The movie is set nearly entirely outside Earth.  It doesn’t cheat. There are no flashbacks, and we learn almost nothing about the characters’ pasts, aside from a few colorful details for one character and one major one for the other. It doesn’t ever turn into a political allegory, and aliens never made an appearance.

Cuaron’s film is a two-character piece, starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as astronauts. He’s a cocky NASA veteran, while she’s a scientist and a first-timer in space. In the first few minutes there’s a disaster and communication with Earth is cut off, so the two astronauts must find their way back to the International Space Station, in order to find any hope of making it home alive.

So it’s a both a claustrophobic suspense thriller and a searing, emotional drama at the same time. And all along, it’s absolutely gorgeous.

Clooney is very good, charming and Clooney-like, despite having to act behind a helmet most of the time. But it’s Bullock’s movie- I’d call it an Oscar-worthy performance, if it weren’t so flat-out better than her actual Oscar-winning role in “The Blind Side.”

Space is photographed as beautifully as I’ve ever seen in a movie, using Cuaron’s trademark long tracking shots and other tricks. Yes, “Gravity” owes more than a little bit to “2001: a Space Odyssey” and to the Stanley Kubrick canon in general- the whole loud-loud-loud-quiet formula of action sequences perfected by Kubrick makes more than one appearance.

Alfonso Cuaron may not be the world’s most prolific filmmaker, but he’s shown again with “Gravity” that he’s among the best.

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