The movie, which focuses on Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (Clooney) after their shuttle is damaged by space debris, takes a minimalistic storytelling approach as we are left to painstakingly watch Stone and Kowalski attempt to reach a level of stability in such a hopeless setting.
The setting which is the most striking element of the movie as the backdrop is always magnificent, whether of earth or the endless outer space. And the word of mouth is right on when emphasizing how spectacular it is.
There are scenes in the film so well done that the deep and vastness of falling through space has the ability to ignite such fears. Early on the film, Dr. Stone is falling through space and Bullock’s spot-on reaction coupled with the visuals of her turning over and over create an overwhelming and uncomfortable feeling of helplessness.
Most of the film is nerve-wrecking and it can be as such because of just how real and natural it feels. Not only are we faced with the incredible visuals of space and the sense of claustrophobia that can come with it but there’s also the range of emotions captured by Bullock as reaction.
She amazes in her role as Dr. Stone who already feels uneasy from the get-go. Somewhat empty in her personal feelings, she hangs on to life because of natural instinct, not because she desires to, and we see as her instinctive hope of surviving fades with each passing second.
Despite the films fantastic visuals and the wonderful pairing of Clooney and Bullock, the weakness lies in elements of the storyline that focus on why someone of Stone’s nature could make it into such a position in space with the personality traits she appears to have.
It can be forgiven that we don’t actually get to know Stone or Kowalski other than the minimum we catch in their discussions; beyond what we see, their stories are secondary to the film’s purpose, which is audience perspective and sheer emotional response.
But the audience perspective is weakened by the story itself, which takes a dramatic yet predictable approach in how each incident is set up and executed. You know what will work and what will fail. If the film wasn’t so visually outstanding, the story wouldn’t be able to carry quite as well on its own and would simply fall flat.
This wouldn’t be quite as big a qualm except that for a film that relies on our emotions by pretty much putting us in the astronaut’s suit, we aren’t given the opportunity to feel some of the additional feelings of uncertainty that Bullock captures so well.
So while we see some of the best visuals in film in years, we do so through the lens of a story that captures the most basic of emotions but lacks in the feeling of uncertainty that one might feel for someone in Dr. Stone’s shoes.