'Gravity' (2013) Movie Review - Toronto Film Festival

Gravity movie review
Sandra Bullock in Gravity
Photo: Warner Bros.

A rumble slowly begins to build as text across the screen sets the stage for Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity, a story that will take us 600 kilometers above the Earth's surface, into the blackness of space. The rumble grows louder... No oxygen. The rumble grows louder, into a dull roar... Below freezing temperatures. The roar grows louder still... Life in space is impossible. And louder, until... Nothing.

Grade: B+

Gravity"Gravity" is a Warner Bros. release, directed by Alfonso Cuaron and is rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language. The running time is .

The cast includes George Clooney, Sandra Bullock and Ed Harris.

The noise disappears into deafening silence. A shot of Earth fills the screen and astronaut chatter echoes through the theater as the space shuttle Explorer slowly comes into view. Veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney), Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and a third astronaut, Shariff (Paul Sharma), banter back and forth with Mission Control (voiced by Ed Harris as an homage to Ron Howard's Apollo 13). Clooney's dialogue here is slightly obnoxious and not as funny as I think it's intended to be while Shariff bounces around like a child at the end of his tether.

Stone is on her very first mission to space and it's about to become a bumpy one. A Russian satellite was intentionally destroyed, but the unintended collateral damage caused by its debris is rushing toward the Explorer and they have only a matter of seconds to abort the mission and get out of its path. They're too late.

Over the course of this continuous 13-minute opening sequence without a single visible edit, the scene turns to horror as shards of debris rip apart the shuttle, Shariff is killed and Stone is sent hurtling into outer space with only the voice of Kowalsky to settle her down and calm her nerves, which is necessary because she's chewing through oxygen at a rapid rate.

What follows is a harrowing attempt to survive in an environment not meant for survival, and we've only scratched the surface of this 90 minute thriller.

Gravity is an interesting film in that its highs are so high it forces you to forget about its more underwhelming lows. It's a movie to be experienced in theaters if there ever was one, but for all the moments of intensity, the in-between, character building segments don't deliver nearly as well, though without them the themes and metaphors would be lost. What to do?

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) and co-written with his son Jonas, Gravity is a film unlike any you've seen before and yet for all its technical brilliance there are still areas where Cuaron simply can't seem to get out of the way.

For example, for as much as I love Steven Price's score, it's entirely unnecessary after the opening sequence hammered home the effectiveness of silence. The sound artists have the audio covered as evidenced early by the low, barely audible hum of bolts being unscrewed heard over the astronauts' dialogue, and even more so as a field of satellite debris is hurtling through space at tens of thousands of miles per hour without a sound, remaining silent as they smash into the shuttle. Your heart begins to race. The entire audience is tense and you can feel it. What isn't needed is artificial sound and yet, Cuaron goes back to it time and again.

The dialogue is also a sore spot. At one point Stone mentions how Kowalsky simply won't shut up. I felt the same way and am surprised Cuaron did not. While I certainly could have watched this film without any dialogue whatsoever, cutting the number of spoken words by half would have definitely improved the overall project.

That said, for every slight misstep the film faces, the moments of tension are so absolutely harrowing you can almost feel your muscles tighten. While it's essentially a film that builds to one perilous scene after another, these scenes are so well done it doesn't really matter. However, the final scene is one that will probably have a lot of audience members throwing their hands in the air and saying, "Really?" Not because it's unrealistic, but more so because it's just one more obstacle in the way of survival that doesn't seem entirely necessary.

This final scene, however, is one of the most thematic scenes in the entire film, playing off the foreboding opening text in combination with the film's title as questions also come to light. If space can't support life should we really be out there? At the same time, the importance of life and accepting your situation, facing your fears and fighting against the odds is just as prevalent. What is life if you runaway and hide when facing tough challenges? It's those moments where all hope seems lost and we decide to fight that define our character.

Behind the camera, Cuaron has assembled a talented team to execute his vision. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki's camerawork is extraordinary as are the film's effects, which have me wondering just how much of the movie is live action and how much is CG. For all I can tell 75% of it may have been entirely computer generated, which would explain the 2+ years it took to bring the film to theaters. Either way, the mixture of live-action and CG is seamless.

All told, the good outweighs the bad, but there are definite flaws preventing it from reaching the highest of levels from a story standpoint. The post-conversion 3D is serviceable, though I would still prefer to see it in 2D. Seeing it on the largest screen you can find, however, is a must. Gravity is as much a cinematic experience as it is a story, if not more so, and it's one you're going to want to seek out.


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More Reviews
  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/navaneethks/ navaneethks

    Do you feel like you would've given it an A- if not for all the hype? Going in fresh without any expectations? B+ is great, looking forward to it! Although I'll have to drive 35 miles for the closest IMAX. Looks like it'll be worth the trip.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Adu/ Adu

    I can't wait to see this!

    I'm interested in what Laremy's opinion on it was as well...hopefully you guys will discuss it a bit more on an upcoming podcast.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Silrian/ Silrian

    I feel like this movie is being hyped too much and as such I feel kinda confirmed in seeing you giving it a good, not a great grade. Granted Laremy did give it a very high grade, so this'll be an interesting podcast convo I hope...

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ian/ Ian

    I'm already mad at this movie because it's another in a long line that's turning what used to be film into nothing more than one long visual effect. That's not as much of a problem as people thinking there's some kind of spectacular camera work going on, when in fact it's nothing but a visual effects sequence created on a computer. This shouldn't even qualify for a cinematography nomination but unfortunately it will almost certainly win.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Thornsy/ Thornsy


      Read this article, you might change your mind. Definitely some real camera work going on.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ian/ Ian

        "So for the spacewalk scenes, says Webber, 'We decided to shoot (the actors’) faces and create everything else digitally.'"

        This is exactly what I'm talking about. The environmentally is digitally created, therefore a visual effect. The "long tracking shots" are digitally created, therefore visual effects, not cinematography. Lubezki and Cuaron may have designed every single image, but the images themselves are still visual effects. Nothing was photographed except the actors themselves. The only impressive actual shooting I see is having to deal with the weightlessness, and the lighting (which anything shot against greenscreen has to do when you're adding in a digital environment later). It's essentially an animated film with actors (mainly one actor) added into the animated background.

  • Ford Boyce

    Cant wait for Gravity! The hype does worry me though. Plus i had no idea Ed Harris was in it. Or at least his voice.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/andyluvsfilms/ andyluvsfilms

    A nice well balanced review Brad, it would be easy to go gung ho with superlatives and grades based on anticipation. B+ seems like the right grade based on your thoughts.

  • http://letterboxd.com/criterion10/ Criterion10

    I'm still excited for this, might even see it in IMAX 3-D, despite my anti-3-D rule. That being said, the film, to me at least, looks as though the visuals will be more impressive than the narrative, which from what I understand, is how you felt, Brad.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/ldm2006/ ldm2006

    Super excited can't wait!!
    What about Bullock's performance? Does she deserve her second nomination?

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/EPayneDDS/ EPayneDDS

    Besides the fact that letter grades are useless unless you actually read Brad's review, B+ is still a solid, "Go See This Movie" grade.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheLastEquivocationofBrist/ TheLastEquivocationofBrist

    Is it me, or does this movie sound like a much better version of After Earth? Reading Brad's review I was reminded of that particular Smith vanity vehicle.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Adu/ Adu

      Emmm, I'm gonna say it's just you. I've seen After Earth and lemme tell you, the trailer alone for Gravity is better than that travesty of a film.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheLastEquivocationofBrist/ TheLastEquivocationofBrist

        I was just thinking of how it's one person in danger/extreme situations, while another person talks to them on an earpiece the whole time.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Adu/ Adu

          Oh believe me I understand, but no....just no ;)

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ryguy815/ Ryguy815

    I might see this but I'm not sure yet.

  • http://themoviegurusblog.blogspot.com The Movie Guru

    From the content of your review, it seems that a B+ is a little high, but it's my most anticipated for the rest of the year and I'm super pumped for it.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/SammyJ/ SammyJ

    Great, great review Brad. Happy to see someone also thinking about the story and subtext. I will never forgive critics for hyping Avatar as the most wonderful movie EVER, just to completely ignore the story and characters.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheLastEquivocationofBrist/ TheLastEquivocationofBrist

      Blue people and floating islands = MASTERPIECE

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Cordia/ Cordia

    Very happy i'm seeing this on a big IMAX screen in 3 weeks

  • http://moviereviewninja.com themoviewatcher

    Glad to hear it's good.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Corbin/ Corbin

    That's good that it's good.

  • Aidan Khan

    Sounds like a good movie. I wonder what its Oscar chances are.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

    Oooh, B+... guess it sucks.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheLastEquivocationofBrist/ TheLastEquivocationofBrist

      How dare you confuse Brad with Cinemascore! ;)

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Winchester/ Winchester

    I'm really looking forward to this, and it's still one of my most anticipated of the year. Can only see it and decide for mysef if it works for me better or not.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/jinjuriki187/ jinjuriki187

    great review, im kind of glad to hear its not as perfect as many are saying it is, but that its still an amazing movie. it seemed like it might have been getting a little over hyped. its good to read a review with some criticism. one thing i was wondering was how sandra bullocks performance was? ive never been a big fan of hers and i didnt think she deserved to win for the blind side so i was wondering if her perfomance here is oscar worthy and if it will help change my mind on her as a actor. im sure you will be talking more on its over all oscar prospects as well as the rest of the films you watch post tiff, hoping your enjoying time there and i cant wait for your review of 12 years a slave.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Hudsucker/ Hudsucker

    While a B+ is still a great grade I feel slightly disappointed. It's silly I know, but I was really hoping for an A to A+.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Chris/ Chris

      Laremy gave it a 9/10 which is a A-

      I'd give it an A

  • PJ Edwards

    Glad to see more rational reviews coming out. Planning on seeing this at my local Imax...and not the liemax variety.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Mv11391/ Michael

    Great review as i'm counting the days to October 4th, can't wait!! I want to know if Sandra Bullock is Oscar-worthy here (i've read some reviews she's great). I want to get Brad's view though, usually when he doesn't mention any of the actors performances, it means they aren't worth mentioning.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Anna/ Anna

    Oh Brad, you gave B+ to both movies I'm dying to watch : Gravity and Blue is the Warmest Colour. I know that B+ is actually a good grade but I can't help to feel a little bit underwhelmed...

    Well, let's wait now for Under the Skin. My third most antecipated. =)

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheLastEquivocationofBrist/ TheLastEquivocationofBrist

      A B+ from Brad probably equates to an A++++++ from Cinemascore (...if Brad and Cinemascore audiences had the same taste in movies I mean).

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/maja/ maja

    This has imax written all over it.

  • GobleGableOneOfUs

    Sandra's legs have given me reason(s) #20 to see this

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Mv11391/ Michael

      And she still has it nowadays, talk about staying in good shape ;)

      • GobleGableOneOfUs

        She's only gotten better with age. Though if she would have had kids that likely wouldn't be the case. Still, can't believe she's almost 50.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Mv11391/ Michael

          Such a very beautiful and very nice woman she is. And yes, I can't believe she's almost at that age too. I grew up watching her a kid and she still amazes me, she still looks the same as she has been in her young days.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Chris/ Chris

    Simply incredible! I did not mind the dialogue so much and actually enjoyed Clooney's character. I think without his slightly over the top talkativeness the film would have been so much more depressing and agonizing.

    My two quips were with the one dream sequence and the repetiveness of action beats. Besides that I would consider this film perfect. Bullock and possibly even Clokney deserve noms. If this doesn't win best cinematography I'll be really disappointed. Cuaron should get a nom simply for the balls he shows in the way he shot this. This is a tour De force in filmmaking. I do not see another film this year pushing the medium forward as much as this one does. Now it probably won't float the Academy's fancy as it is not about societal problems or a period piece, but this will be a classic. No doubt. Grade: A

    • Bertram J. Krogh

      To be honest, I think the popularity will diminish slightly over the years, as the cinematic experience MAKES the movie. When that service isn’t available anymore, it will lose momentum.

  • JOE

    I really don't understand why this film is getting so much critical attention. Visually, yes, it is stunning. But the dialogue? What is this? Oceans 2013 - A Space Oddity? Clooney is in serious danger of his over the top public persona taking over his onscreen characteriztions. Stop talking, please. Bullock was adequate, but if I had seen this film on T.V., I would have changed the channel. Cinematography - amazing. Editing and Sound - terriffic. Script? What Script?

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Newbourne/ Newbourne

    I decided to finally finish this movie today. I had still had about 20 minutes on the clock. Rewatched it from the beginning, fast forwarded a few times as I wasn't interested in the slightest to see random floating around in space for a second time around. I listened to all the dialogue again and was bored to tears. I struggled to make it to the end, but I finally did. This is probably the best boring movie of all time. It's excellently designed, visually stunning, but horribly horribly boring. Like an amusement park ride that never ends. I'd give it a C- and that's being generous.