Let’s start with the hyperbole, then back it up with fact. Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity is the best film I’ve been lucky enough to see at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s the best film I’ve seen this year, and I’m not sure what has the potential to top it. It might be the most innovative film I’ve seen in years, but I’d have to revisit films like Christopher Nolan’s Inception or James Cameron’s Avatar to see where Cuaron’s masterpiece falls on the short list of game-changing features.
But a masterpiece, Cuaron’s film no doubt is. The director of Children of Men and Y Tu Mama, Tambien produces a stunning achievment in filmmaking – and storytelling – that takes an audience on a breathtaking, break-neck space jaunt that delivers the closest replication of zero-gravity fear and exultation as we’ve ever seen on screen. Truly, Cuaron had to wait years for technology to reach the stage where it would allow him to tell Gravity the way that his brilliant mind wants to tell it. Without question, it was worth the wait.
On paper, Gravity is a relatively simple story. Veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) is enjoying his final space walk. Part of his mission is training and supervising his relatively inexperienced colleague, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock). While they float through the ether of our solar system, the Russians are sending a rocket into space to destroy a nearby satellite. The detonation causes debris … which means Stone and Kowalsky are about to have a very difficult afternoon.
The less I tell you about Gravity, the better. Not that “spoilers” would ruin the plot. This isn’t a complicated, multi-tiered human-relations drama. It is a stripped-down survival thriller that happens to boast the added challenge – on every physical level – of taking place in space. And it’s in that challenge where Cuaron works his magic. Gravity, as the title implies, is a constant factor (and frequent detriment) as Stone and Kowalsky try to get to a safe satellite station, to a workable spacecraft and, hopefully, back home to Houston.
But Cuaron’s such a masterful visual storyteller that you could spend multiple viewings of his tightly-packed exercise and simply marvel at how he created this environment. Our brains assume green-screen, CGI wizardry, and yet the effects are so air-tight and seamless, you could allow Cuaron the benefit of the doubt that he actually somehow figured how to shoot Bullock and Clooney into the stratosphere to ensure his authenticity.
Bullock and Clooney are fantastic. Their presence has allowed a few to nitpick that Gravity might be too “commercial,” which is ludicrous, because the star is Cuaron, with his vision, voice and spectacular effects. But Bullock holds the camera’s attentions like few newcomers might have, and she’s the ideal stand-in for audience members who’ll be clinging to their arm rests, reminding themselves to stop and breathe every once in a while (because we’re not low on oxygen, even though that’s an obstacle our protagonists often encounter).
Whatever your reservations for Gravity, look past them. It’s a thrilling ride, a tremendous accomplishment for one of the most gifted filmmakers working today, and an absolute must-see movie, on the biggest screen possible. Gravity set a new bar for science-fiction storytelling … hell, for storytelling in every genre. And now that it’s out, I can’t wait to see what Cuaron has in store for us next.