Gravity is an intense, pulse-pounding, edge-of-your-seat cinematic experience. Am I forgetting any movie review clichés? Regardless, they all apply to this instant classic that redefines the rules for every film about space exploration that has been put to celluloid over the past 50 years.
Gravity is directed by Alfonso Cuaron whose previous film, Children of Men, stands among the very best films of the past decade. Much like Hitchcock's Rope, Cuaron's signature is the use of lengthy single-shot sequences. The climactic scene from Children of Men is one of the reasons the film is so memorable. Cuaron once again expertly uses this technique.
This time he opens the film with a 13 minute uncut scene as we follow the astronauts while they work on the exterior of the shuttle. Cuaron also seamlessly transitions as the camera slowly floats around space as we watch the astronauts, to inside Stone's helmet, to seeing everything from her perspective. The camera work and the use of CGI is pulled off so well that it really gives the illusion as if we are floating in space along with the astronauts.
There really isn't much to Gravity's plot. It's basically a two person Broadway play that takes place in outer space. George Clooney plays Matt Kowalski, a veteran astronaut who's completing his final space mission. Even in the depths of space and all the dangers that accompany it, Clooney plays it cool, often leisurely floating around without a care in the world like he's taking a stroll in the park.
Sandra Bullock is his polar opposite. She plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer embarking on her first space mission. Stone is quiet and understandably tense as she navigates around the outside of the space shuttle. Bullock's character seems to be wrapped in an orbit of sadness and despair. Even in the rare playful scenes between her and Kowalski, she seems sullen and her interactions with him feel forced and contrived. Soon we realize the reason for Stone's demeanor. Some will find her back-story a tad heavy-handed, but I had no problem with it.
At the start of the film, the astronauts are working on the outside of the space shuttle when an unexpected event sends debris hurtling towards them. From that point on, all hell breaks loose. This is where Gravity really starts to shine. Cuaron does an amazing job of immersing the viewer in the film. He captures the absolute emptiness of space with perfection.
Gravity also deals with interesting contrasts. One moment we feel the suffocating claustrophobia of Stone while she's in her helmet gasping for air and the next instant we are viewing the astronauts as a white speck in the vast expanses of outer space. There's also instances of deafening sound and utter silence.
Early in the film, there is a scene that is shot so beautifully that to try and explain it would ruin what makes it so special. The most I will say is that it symbolizes rebirth. From that moment on, Stone is determined to survive. This happens to be the main theme of Gravity: humanity's sheer animal instinct to survive at all costs.
Gravity also happens to be the rare film experience that actually uses 3D for the better. The use of 3D does a great job of using depth of field to separate the astronauts from the backdrop of Earth. Without giving too much away, there are numerous scenes that use 3D so perfectly I was so happy I chose to see it in this overused and often misused format.
The standout performance of Gravity is clearly Sandra Bullock. It's her film. She captures your attention like James Franco did recently in 127 Hours or like Tom Hanks did in Cast Away 13 years ago. Although Bullock won an Oscar for The Blind Side, her work in Gravity will go down as her best.
Also, film buffs with a keen ear might recognize a familiar voice as NASA's mission control. I won't spoil the surprise.
Gravity might be light on plot, but if you're looking for a memorable, non-stop experience, then buy a ticket to Gravity, sit back and prepare for liftoff.
Prisoners is the rare mainstream rated R mystery film that we hardly get from Hollywood anymore. It features an All-Star cast led by Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. Prisoners is an intense thriller that keeps the viewer guessing and never feels contrived.
Prisoners is directed by relative newcomer Denis Villeneuve who handles the star-studded cast and the heavy subject matter like a director who has a lengthy filmography of well-crafted films. The film is well paced and expertly structured. Although Prisoners is two and a half hours long, it never seems to lag. Villeneuve elevates the story and characters so it doesn't feel like an episode of one of the many "whodunnit" TV shows that pollute our airwaves.
Hugh Jackman plays Keller Dover, a blue collar survivalist who has been preparing his entire life for the worst. When his daughter is kidnapped, it's something he could never have prepared for and he doesn't know how to deal with it. Feeling like he's let his family down and that the police aren't doing enough to find his daughter, Keller takes matters into his own hands and kidnaps the recently released suspect who he is certain knows more about what happened to his daughter and her friend who was also kidnapped.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Detective Loki, a passionate investigator who has solved every case he's ever worked on. Detective Loki's past is never explained, but he sports neck and hand tattoos hinting that he might have had a turbulent past. Loki also has a nervous twitch of the eyes that gets worse as the film progresses and the pressure begins to mount.
It's understandable considering Detective Loki has to deal with an indifferent police captain, a grieving father who has gone rogue and a mysterious case that seems to get weirder with each clue.
The rest of the cast is rounded out by Maria Bello, who plays Dover's wife. She's not given a whole lot to do here and spends much of the film in a state of sedation. Terrence Howard and Viola Davis play friends of the Dover's whose daughter was also kidnapped. They play the moral conscience to Keller as he starts going to extremes to get information about the whereabouts of the lost girls.
Paul Dano, who is making a career of playing creepy crazy characters, plays Alex Jones, a mentally handicapped loner that is suspected of kidnapping the young girls. He plays the character with perfect balance. One second you want to bash his head in and the next you feel bad for him and can't help but feel he's being wrongly accused.
Prisoners deals with the theme of religion very heavily. Characters are seen saying the Our Father and crucifixes can be seen dangling from rear view mirrors or hanging on walls. There are also themes of vengeance, resolution, justice.
The other part of the film that stands out is the cinematography by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins who has been nominated for 10 Oscars for films such as Skyfall, Shawshank Redemption, True Grit, Doubt, No Country for Old Men and A Beautiful Mind just to name a few. Deakins cloaks the film in a blanket of gloom. Every scene seems to be cloudy and rainy. Every frame is saturated with looming despair.
After a summer of caped crusaders, furious cars, Brad Pitt hating zombies, giant robots and really lonely rangers, Prisoners is perfect for anybody looking for a serious film experience. Prisoners delivers an intense thriller that includes great performances from some of the better actors working today. Including a career best performance for Jackman with a possible Oscar nomination on the horizon. For me, Prisoners is up there with recent mystery films like Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone and Zodiac.