Niagara Gazette — The science fiction fantasy of Gravity” and the fictionalized focus on a presidential assassination in “Parkland” are rooted in a realism that is rare for what passes for American studio filmmaking these days.
Both movies rely on a “you are there” aspect of storytelling that draws in and engages the audience. Regarding “Gravity,” which is about astronauts literally lost in space, you view events as if you are a member of the mission crew. For “Parkland,” which has a quasi-documentary feel to it, the chaos in the hospital where President John F. Kennedy was taken after being shot is seen from the vantage point of someone at the scene. In both instances, the camera is the moviegoer.
“Gravity” is a space adventure, which, if it were a silent film with music, would rank as one of the greatest movies of all time. The problem is that the characters talk and too often what they say is repetitive and uninteresting. The screenplay never rises to the level of the truly magnificent visuals, which are so stunning that if you have the means, see the picture in IMAX 3D.
The story is focused and simple. A veteran American astronaut, the wise-cracking experienced Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), and a rookie astronaut, the medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) are swept into a maelstrom of debris from an exploded satellite during a space walk that destroys their shuttle. They are set adrift in the cosmos. Will they make it to what represents security? After 91-minutes, you will know the answer.
The movie opens with gorgeous lyricism, advances with overwhelming dread, and ends with raw emotion. The beauty of outer space, and “Gravity” shows it as breathtakingly beautiful, cannot compensate for the terror the astronauts will experience. How far would someone float? A few miles? To the moon? To the end of the universe?
Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, working with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and a talented special effects team, has created a picture so visually arresting that you watch with pure and wondrous pleasure at the sights you see. That the dialogue gets in the way doesn’t ruin the journey, but it does occasionally abate the tension.
Additionally, the screenwriters, director Cuaron and his brother Jonas, fail to come up with sufficient challenges for the astronauts to contend with, so they repeat things, not that the challenge of being lost in space isn’t enough. It is, but Kowalski and Stone still need more events to which they can react, not the same occurrences. Also, the two characters lack depth. Once we get used to Kowalski’s goofy nature and Stone’s nervousness, the script falters. It doesn’t help that they are the only characters in the movie. We do hear the voices of five others, including Ed Harris as the director of Mission Control, who must help the astronauts defy the odds to escape the void.
“Gravity” offers a warning about the risks of technology, which can’t solve every problem. As we watch Dr. Stone experience her traumas, we get the sense that the Cuaron brothers are uncertain as to how spiritual they want her journey to be. The screenplay lacks new ideas. It doesn’t help that there are limits to Bullock’s talent as an actress. She can be very good, but dramatic depth is not her forte.
Does “Gravity” match up to the king of science fiction, Stanley Kubrick‘s “2001: A Space Odyssey?” No it doesn’t.
Cuaron’s film is a stark melodrama that soars on its visuals but never achieves absolute greatness because of the shallowness of its characters. Kubrck’s epic space opera, which still looks fresh and innovative, broke new ground challenging humankind’s concept of space travel, and tells a story that generated philosophical arguments still being waged today.
“Parkland” offers an interesting insider’s view of the period in November 1963 immediately after President Kennedy was shot and taken to Parkland Hospital in Dallas. Writer-director Peter Landesman, a former journalist, concentrates on the people who dealt with the aftermath of Kennedy’s murder, the doctors and nurses in the blood-soaked emergency room, the Secret Service agents fighting turf wars with the Dallas police, and the shocked and deeply saddened Kennedy aides who must return to Washington.
The very strong movie, which takes a fast-paced, eyewitness-to-history approach, offers riveting details about how the chaos and confusion unfolded in the hospital, how Abraham Zapruder’s home movie of the assassination was dealt with by the federal government, and how the FBI realized that the assassin had been on their radar.
The film’s superb ensemble cast includes Marcia Gay Harden, Paul Giamatti, Jackie Weaver, Billy Bob Thornton, Ron Livingston, Jackie Earle Haley, and Zac Efron. “Parkland” is produced by Tom Hanks. He and Landesman have made a fascinating, newsreel-style work that captures history as few movies have.
Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.