DIR: Alfonso Cuarón • WRI: Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón • PRO: David Heyman • DOP: Emmanuel Lubezki • ED: Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger • DES: Andy Nicholson • CAST: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Basher Savage
Two actors pretend to float in space. The premise promises little, but Gravity is an exceptional film that has already pulled huge audiences worldwide and attracted rave reviews, both well deserved. It’s simply stunning.
Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Lt Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are among the crew servicing the Hubble Space Telescope. A Russian missile destroys an obsolete satellite. The debris hurtles through space, causing catastrophic damage to Stone’s shuttle. We know from film taglines that, in space, no one can hear you scream. There’s no air pressure, no oxygen. So, how will they survive? Is it even possible?
Gravity works well because Alfonso Cuarón, who co-wrote the script with his son Jonás, directs it as a thriller. He clearly sets out difficulties to overcome and the stakes should the characters succeed or not. He ratchets up the tension as oxygen levels fall, fuel runs out and space debris strikes again. The pacing is excellent.
But it’s more than a thriller. Gravity may very well be this year’s Life of Pi, a visually impressive film best seen in IMAX 3D. Gravity surpasses Lee’s film because its philosophizing is less trite, more subtle. Their central device is much the same: an isolated hero confronted by a vast wilderness struggles to get home. It’s possible to read Gravity as an existential meditation, confronting our fear of dying, our need to connect to other people, and our utter dependence on the planet we take for granted. Cuarón’s direction and the intelligent writing allow these themes to emerge, to be contemplated perhaps after the film’s initial impact.
Its imagery beguiles. Emmanuel Lubezki, Cuarón’s regular DOP, worked wonders with Terrence Malick and his natural light in The Tree of Life and To the Wonder. Here, he must integrate digital and live action, and it’s his lighting that makes it seamless. The visual effects are nothing less than marvellous. Gravity is often breathtakingly beautiful, with shots ranging from panoramic vistas of the Earth below or close-ups of Dr Stone’s tears floating before us in 3D. It’s one of the most technically accomplished films yet produced.
All this technical skill, philosophizing and striking scenery may draw parallels with the works of Stanley Kubrick, in particular 2001: A Space Odyssey. Indeed, some of the film’s images, such as Dr Ryan Stone assuming the foetal position in a space capsule, directly recall the 1968 classic. Whereas Kubrick’s films could be cold, Cuarón’s film avoids that pitfall with Sandra Bullock’s excellent performance and George Clooney’s important contribution.
The actors are often confined in small spaces, their movements restricted in their spacesuits, leaving them to convey much with their voice and facial expressions, and they succeed admirably. The dialogue at times seems far removed and unrelated to the captivating imagery, but Gravity frequently becomes profoundly moving.
Clooney gives the film its warmth and its humour, playing on his roguish charm and playboy image. Bullock demonstrates how much Hollywood has undervalued her abilities to date. Ed Harris reprises his role as the voice of Houston, and his interactions with the astronauts at the beginning serve as a sweetener before the crisis ensues.
A big budget epic made with the skill and intelligence that keeps its more lofty elements grounded, Gravity is a deeply affecting, mesmerizing film that exemplifies the best of contemporary cinema.
12A (See IFCO for details)
Gravity is released on 8th November 2013