Gravity, rated PG-13

Starring Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Austin Family critical rating: 5 of 5 stars

Austin Family family-friendly rating: 4 of 5 stars

Seven years ago, I staggered out of the theater after seeing director Alfonso Cuarón’s breathtaking film Children of Men. With his first movie since then, the awe-inspiring space opera Gravity, Cuarón has done it again. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star as astronauts Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski, who are stranded in outer space after an accident destroys their shuttle.

Gravity marks the third consecutive year in which a masterful American filmmaker has used 3D as a storytelling technique and advanced the technology to new heights (Martin Scorsese’s Hugo in 2011 and Ang Lee’s Life of Pi last year are, along with Gravity, are the finest uses of 3D I’ve encountered). But the technical achievements in this movie go far beyond the outstanding use of 3D.

The very concept of space in Gravity is fascinating, because Cuarón – who is famous for his long takes – essentially stages the film in a small number of unbroken shots, which not only give a fluid sense of what it must feel like to move around in outer space, but also allow for a kind of operatic beauty to every movement in the film (like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, there are many scenes in which Gravity resembles a kind of ballet). There’s an incredible majesty to nearly everything we see in this film, thanks to the camera movement (the cinematographer is the brilliant Emmanuel Lubezki, who shot Children of Men and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life and The New World) and the exquisite choreography of the actors.

All of this would be impressive as technical achievements alone, but the real brilliance of Gravity is how camera and actor choreography are used so effectively in the service of storytelling. In order to really be immersed in a film, you have to know where you are and understand the physical geography of the space in the movie. This is a particularly tough task for a film that takes place in outer space, and yet I cannot think of a recent film that so fluidly kept me aware of where I was, and therefore connected me so deeply to what our protagonist is experiencing.

The performances here by Bullock and Clooney are amazing. Bullock, in particular, owns the movie, and her work belongs on a list of the best performances of the year, next to Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine and Matthew McConaughey in Mud.

Although the film has its loud moments, Gravity is also a picture that understands the power of silence. Most big-budget Hollywood entertainment is aggressively loud and oftentimes feels like an assault on the audience, but Cuarón holds us captivated as we are confronted with the eerie quiet of space. Gravity is an extraordinary film.

Jack Kyser is a graduate of Austin High School and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

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