Sunday, December 8, 2013

Making the Case for: George Clooney in Gravity

By Sati. Sunday, December 8, 2013 , , ,
I usually try to stay open minded when it comes to other people's opinions on movies. No, wait. That's not it. I try to, however, remember that everyone is entitled to have different taste than me. Movies are different, people are different. As many people, as many reactions to certain films. That said, occasionally I hear opinions so shockingly wrong I just roll my eyes.

When it comes to Gravity, there are two such opinions. First one - that the movie has no/very little depth. Yes, what a hollow experience. The film showing the strength of human spirit - that's just silly! The film showing the extraordinary capabilities of a human being - that's just insignificant! The film showing that even in vast space a person, something as tiny as human being, can be victorious - who cares? How is that important? A film showing that no matter what we can gather enough perseverance and courage to keep moving on.

How is that not deep? If that's not deep, I don't know what is.
Another ridiculous statement about the movie is that George Clooney is not doing anything in it. That's actually a statement one hears every time Clooney has a new movie out. It has now became acceptable or at least alarmingly common to punish that man for his transcendent charm and likability, something that channels through his work and everything he does.

That's just wrong.

Let's maybe start with the casting. Even if you are stuck in hopeless Clooney isn't doing anything delusion, you will agree that casting is very important in the movie. I bet you'll also agree Clooney was brilliantly cast here. In fact, I can think of no one else who would fit that role.
And that is precisely because of the charm he exudes that causes so many to whine about him. His charm, warmth and the feeling you know the man because you've seen him in movies for over two decades now, was necessary here. It was necessary because for the film to work and for its key scene to be believable we need to like Matt Kowalski. We need to trust him. We need to believe in everything he tells us and Dr Stone.

The film couldn't be just about Stone. She needed catalyst. And we as the audience, needed one too. She is safer when Matt is in frame - he knows things, he is more skilled, he knows what to do. And when he is gone she is more afraid. And we are too. She is on her own and we are stuck with her. When Stone is alone, she is even more alone because Matt is not there. She can either keep going and not let his sacrifice go to waste, even if she is too weak to keep going or she can give up and let down the last person she connected with.
There is a stunning moment in the scene where Ryan talks about her dead daughter. The scene begins with Matt trying to calm her down and asking her questions. He has his music playing, he keeps cracking jokes. He knows it's her first mission so he is trying to get her to talk so that she wouldn't panic. She reluctantly starts talking.

And when she gets to the part where her daughter died, Matt shuts down his music. He stops smiling. He is closer to the camera and we see the sadness on his face. The kind of helpless sadness when you hear about other person's tragedy and you think how unfair it is that some people have such tragedies happen in their lives. A lot has been written and said about the reflections in this movie - but the audience is reflected in characters. The things we see and hear are reflected on their faces. And in this moment, Matt's melancholic sadness and empathy mirrors the feelings audience has for Dr Stone.
There are actresses that could play Ryan besides Bullock. But is there anyone who could play Matt besides Clooney? No. Is there anyone who could play him better? No. Sometimes the fact there is someone out there just perfect for the part is the achievement on its own. You don't need just screenplay and story for a character to exist. You need the perfect actor for the part to breathe life into writing, to make someone feel like an actual person.

Gravity is unique because of many things, but one of them is the film's refusal to use flashbacks. Sure seeing Ryan find out about her daughter would be heartbreaking. But Cuaron doesn't do that. We don't leave the present for a second during the movie. And because the actors are so convincing, we believe them. Matt has all those stories he keeps telling the base and fellow astronauts. And when he tells them, we believe he has been through that. Clooney makes Matt feel like a real person, with memories, experiences and stories to tell. All of that with just his voice, with a camera spinning around him, only occasionally showing us his face close enough, so we can read what he is feeling.
I'm sure that the Academy will go for performances that are far, far from actor's best work but they are in high profile film (Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave) and most likely they will award Oscar to Jared Leto for Dallas Buyer's Club, seeing how they like transformation so much. But without Clooney, there would be no Matt. Without Matt, Ryan wouldn't go on. And without that, Gravity would be hollow.

And it's the least hollow film you'll see all year.
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42 comments:

  1. Well, I guess I'm delusional, but Clooney does absolutely NOTHING in this movie.

    But, I'm glad you liked it. I just hope he doesn't get any awards traction ;-)

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  2. Great post. I agree completely. The only other actor I can possibly seen in Matt's role is Tom Hanks but that becomes too obvious. I respect Cuaron's choice and what Clooney brought to the role. Is it my favourite supporting performance of the year? Hardly. But for exactly all the reasons you have mentioned here, I loved it still and can understand why it was and the character was so important in the story.

    Also, love the part you talk about the reflections. Also the whole dream sequence. Even though I'm saying Hanks would have been perfectly satisfactory in this role, the joy I got seeing Clooney's face floating out of the pod, no one else could have done it.

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    1. Thanks! Hanks would be good, but I thought Clooney brought the charming 'what if?' flirty quality to the role Hanks wouldn't be able to deliver.

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  3. I remember being unimpressed with Clooney's acting in ER and I am glad that later work has proven me wrong about his acting skills.

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    1. He is doing so amazingly well lately, acting-wise.

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  4. Great post! I was actually kind of disappointed when he went away. I was expecting the film to be more about Matt than Ryan. But I totally agree with what you said about now no one could play Matt except Clooney. That is totally true, he was perfect. *Said in Nina Sayers post Swan Lake voice*

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    1. Thank you! I was very surprised at that, but than again it was a pretty smart and ballsy move to make Matt disappear from frame.

      :)

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  5. Great article, Margaret! Clooney is one of the most under-estimated guys in Hollywood despite his iconic class and charm. Part of me thinks casting went for that feeling of who would the audience, who would anyone most like to be stuck in space with. I know I would! Not only is he a catalyst for Stone but I can't imagine any other actor who could pull of his subtlety, his veteran coolness, and inspiration for her to keep going. Had Robert Downey Jr been cast originally the whole thing would've fallen apart - I think.

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    1. Thank you! That's so true. People still look down on his talent and he has proved himself to be a terrific actor and director.

      Oh, God, being stuck in space with him would probably be my biggest dream :P

      As much as I like RDJ I completely agree. He would be wrong for the part. He lacks the certain calamity the character needed.

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  6. I don't believe that people exist who don't find themselves fully respecting George Clooney as an actor. The guy is so disarmingly confident, it's incredible.

    I really enjoyed this post. I haven't seen nearly enough of the Oscar pics this year, but I'm with you in my support of Clooney and Gravity.

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    1. Thank you! I haven't seen that many Oscar race movies yet either, but I don't think anything can top Gravity for me.

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  7. Really good post, I completely agree.
    It maddens me that people don't see just how hard it is to do what Clooney did. He had basically no body language to support his acting on, no range of motion, and his face was behind a visor the whole time. All he had was his voice, and as you said, his infinite charm. Really no one else could create such instant empathy and set the right mood so perfectly like Clooney did.

    Also, I loved what you said about him being what makes Ryan feel safe, I completely felt that too. Matt was such a soothing presence throughout the film that seeing him go was both sad and utterly terrifying.

    Now I want to Gravity again. You know, I wasn't completely blown away by it when I saw it, but I'm becoming more and more convinced that it's one of those mood things. Sometimes it's just not the right moment to watch a certain film. So I'll have to revisit it, without a doubt.

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    1. Thanks!

      Exactly, this was a difficult role - in fact perhaps more difficult than Bullock's in a sense as you said he had such a limited means to create a character. Yet he succeeded and he shouldn't be penalized for just being so damn perfect for the part he is playing.

      I felt horror when he was gone. I felt so alone and so scared because this shaking woman was there all by herself and there was nowhere for me to run, just being stuck in space with her.

      I hope you'll enjoy it more the second time around, I really cannot wait to rewatch it!

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  8. I think Clooney was perfect in that film. You needed him for the film or else it would just be Sandra Bullock moping around and wanting to die. He's her catalyst and I think he should get some recognition.

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  9. You make some great points, and I completely agree with you that the film does have depth. The most important case to make about this film is this: it all comes down to personal opinion. While you and many others would say Clooney was perfect for the role, I couldn't disagree more. That's not because you're right, and that's not because I'm right. That is just our taste, and there's no Black and White answer to it. My problem with his performance was that he prevented me from submersing into the story. I was always blatantly aware that it was George Clooney on screen. I can submerse myself in his other roles, such as 'The Descendants' and 'O Brother Where Art Thou?' But here, in Gravity, he just didn't do it for me.

    That's why I see him as a flaw in the film. But then again, he was perfect for you and many others. All I can say is that we all know how we feel, and none of us are wrong.

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    1. Well in the case of casting...Matt needed to be charming, experienced, sweet, brave. When you think of that, Clooney actually is the first thing that comes to mind, considering all the heroic guys he played in the past. What about Bullock? She is famous as well. Yet the 'aware it was that person' argument isn't there so much when it comes to her. I think it's a bit alarming when actors are getting criticized for their fame when in Clooney and Bullock's case their fame is a product of years of hard work and talent.

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    2. I have no qualms with Bullock's performance. She is almost as famous as Clooney, yet she managed to make me forget about her as an actress. I could submerse myself fully in her story and character, because she was just that good in the movie. Clooney, as much as I love him, just couldn't do that. He couldn't make me believe he was 'Matt,' which is why I didn't like his performance.

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    3. I don't think it's possible to compare the two - Bullock had literally the entire movie to develop her character.

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  10. I definitely think Clooney was memorable here and his role provides a stark contrast to Bullock's in an intriguing way. At the same time he didn't go overboard w/ the wisecracking that would work against the film. I agree that the film's refusal to use flashbacks sets it apart from others in that it makes us focus on their plight in space instead of being a distraction.

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    1. I was so surprised there was no flashbacks. It was really a bold move and made the movie feel so together and the action uninterrupted.

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  11. I thought Clooney's acting was absolutely fine, but I don't think he was helped by the script. He basically played Buzz Lightyear and that was largely down to the script. I just had a bit of a problem buying into an astronaut on a massively dangerous spacewalk cracking jokes most of the time, it just felt a little jarring to me. Having said that, it didn't stop me thinking it was a fantastic film and it's definitely not hollow, there's plenty of depth in there.

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    1. I don't know, he did it for years after all, and it did seem to me their mission was meant to be a piece of cake, it was about Ryan installing her thing and them basically escorting her there.

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  12. I'm with you on this one. A lot of it is what I haven't even thought of before - how we needed to trust Kowalski, for example - but now that you mention it... yep. Exactly. I have always loved Clooney and I really can't see him disappointing me, ever.

    PS. Great new stuff on the sidebar!

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    1. I can't see him disappointing me either :)

      Thank you!

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  13. He makes my top ten for supporting actor, and I'm pretty sure he'll stay there. Some of the best scenes of Gravity are moments between Ryan and Matt. Clooney brings his usual charm to Matt, giving Gravity the balance it needed. His character is essential to the story and Clooney plays the part perfectly.

    PS - Love the new stuff on the sidebar!

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    1. He is currently my win, but I have yet to see Dallas Buyers Club. I think the most important scene was her hallucination and he just killed it there, so perfect.

      Thank you! :) There will be some more design changes.

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  14. I'm a big fan of Clooney. In fact, he one of the few consistently reliable actors around just now but I have to say, I thought he was miscast here. You're correct in saying that we have to trust Kowalski but I couldn't actually get past that it was Clooney. There didn't seem to be a character written. It was all Clooney and what we expect from him. Who knows who would have been better cast (Sam Rockwell springs to mind but he's too close to "Moon" and still quite well recognised. I'd have proffered lesser known actors in the roles. There was too much Hollywood glamour in Clooney and Bullock.

    Glad to hear he worked for you, though, I'm normally on the side of anyone praising Clooney ;)

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    1. One review of Gravity mentioned that if a movie ever needed big stars it's Gravity.

      Something to think about.

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  15. I am not a fan of George C at all . I get tired if his bachelor playboy -all women want me - attitude. I don't find him attractive so his "charm" comes across as an arrogance that overshadows the characters he is trying to humanize. But it fit in this role . He fit, because even though I disliked him and he played his macho-womanizer character , it was that type of man who would never show the vulnerability or fear in that situation. You got to see that bravado carried out to the end . You got to see that it wasn't an act , it was the way he approached love and death .. with humor and not taking women or himself too seriously.
    He still showed empathy , but never defeat or fear . I am not sure if I will ever enjoy Cloony in another role , I liked seeing him die .

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    1. "he played his macho-womanizer character , it was that type of man who would never show the vulnerability or fear in that situation" Wow, OK I think the movie went over your head or you fell asleep.

      "I liked seeing him die ." get help.

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  16. Great read! I really liked Clooney in this (and quite like him as an actor too).

    I would be really surprised if he gets a nomination almost anywhere though. You make great arguments though, it would be great if they somehow got a read of this and decided to vote him in!

    I'm just happy that Hill looks like getting another nom!

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    1. Thank you!

      I'm not sure about Hill - I'd love to see him nominated again but there seems to be a lot of competition.

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  17. This is a very well-written defense for Gravity. While Gravity was one of my bigger disappointments of the year, I agree with your Clooney case. His character was meant to be subtle and charming, and Clooney really hit the spot with this role. He didn't steal any of the spotlight away either, so he meshed completely with the film and what his character was intended to do. Nice job, Sati!

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    1. Thank you so much! I was really a big fan of the movie and pretty much everything in it. It looks like it may remain my number 1 of the year after I see all the contenders in Oscar race.

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  18. YES, YES, YES! I'm with you 100%. I thought Clooney was a perfect fit for what the film needed. I've heard his performance being compared to an assortment of other things but most of these perceptions miss the point of his character. I think you hit the nail on the head. Clooney was spot on and he was exactly what the movie needed him to be. Nothing more, nothing less.

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    1. Thank you, I'm so glad to see so many people agree after all those whiny 'he is doing nothing' comments. Such brilliant casting right there. Without him the movie and the journey Ryan goes through wouldn't have this much meaning.

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  19. Excellent choice! Clooney does far from nothing, and he adds a great deal to the film. I think it was inspired casting, even if people scoff at it.

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    1. Thank you, glad you liked his work!

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