By Rich Cline
More like a 91-minute thrill-ride than an astronaut adventure movie, this tour de force throws us out into space without a safety line then thrills us with a series of near misses that take our breath away. Along the way, Sandra Bullock gets to deliver one of her best-ever performances while filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron wows us with his seamless technical wizardry. So even if the plot feels naggingly implausible, we hang on for dear life.
It begins during a Space Shuttle mission to repair the Hubble Telescope with the cheeky team leader Kowalski (Clooney) and nervous rookie Dr Stone (Bullock). Then after the Russians destroy a distant satellite, the field of debris gathers momentum and knocks out communications before sweeping Kowalski and Stone away from the shuttle and the rest of the crew. Tethered together, they decide to make their way to the International Space Station for help. But they only have 90 minutes before they intersect with the debris storm again. And both power and oxygen are running out.
Earth looks so beautiful floating just below them that we are continually taken aback by the fact that this is essentially a horror movie set in the silent weightlessness of space. Every sequence is carefully staged to ratchet up the suspense, which sometimes begins to feel a little overwrought as it continually comes down to another last-gasp moment. But Bullock plays this especially well, letting us identify with her panic and tenacity. By contrast, Clooney is sarcastic and comical, cheering her up with ridiculous anecdotes as he tries to spark her survival instinct.
Cuaron and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki capture all of this so fluidly that we believe they actually shot the movie in orbit. Long sequences have no edits at all, while tiny details remind us that this is Stone's first space mission and that she has past emotional issues that are still haunting her. She's so compelling to watch that we barely notice the series of coincidences that hold the narrative together. Or the fact that the physics aren't quite right. But Cuaron has created such a gorgeous white-knuckle cinematic experience that you'll immediately want to ride it again.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 4th October 2013
Box Office Worldwide: $716.4M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Warner Bros., Esperanto Filmoj, Heyday Films
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Fresh: 295 Rotten: 10
Cast & Crew
Starring: Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone, George Clooney as Matt Kowalski, Ed Harris as Mission Control (voice), Orto Ignatiussen as Aningaaq (voice), Paul Sharma as Shariff (voice), Amy Warren as Explorer Captain (voice), Basher Savage as Space Station Captain (voice)