Gravity film review.
Release Date: 7 November 2013
12A | 91 minutes
Distributor: Warner Bros
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Special effects cinema has always had the rollercoaster capacity to dazzle and delight, but the astonishing Gravity is a rare example of processor-powered filmmaking that will snatch the air from your lungs and leave you gasping for breath.
“Nerve-shredding” doesn’t cover it. Gravity is the most stressful 90 minutes you’re ever likely to spend in a stranger-filled room without a car battery clamped to your genitals. The film’s taut running time leaves no room for flab, its streamlined storytelling no plotholes to pick apart, its technical brilliance no immersion-breaking trips to uncanny valley. There’s just you, the void and the teeth-clenching struggle for survival.
Alfonso Cuarón’s space-set thriller marks the long overdue return of the Prisoner Of Azkaban director to the big screen after 2006’s superb Children Of Men. It’s as much science fact as it is science fiction, presenting a plausible vision of a routine Hubble Telescope upgrade that meets disaster. In fact, the closest it comes to stepping outside its hard SF boundaries is a cameo by Looney Tunes’s Marvin the Martian, in figurine form.
In a bravura opening shot that lasts around 15 minutes before the first cut, we’re introduced to veteran pilot Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) and rookie engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), the former on his last shuttle mission, the latter on her first. As Stone struggles to simply keep dinner down while performing her duties in zero g, Kowalsky floats around with the aid of a jetpack, blaring tinny country and western over his headset and regaling mission control with stories of love lost, like some rakish space raconteur.
It’s a breezy, genuinely joyous sequence, filled with moments of such mesmerising beauty that it’s only when Clooney’s dulcet tones come through the speakers and not David Attenborough’s that you remember this isn’t the BBC’s latest tour de force doc.
The jocular mood turns fraught on a pinhead – a message from mission control that a Russian satellite has exploded, sending a debris field Hubble’s way at thousands of miles per hour. From this moment on Gravity is relentless, an action movie where the ruthless realities of space travel and a seemingly endless array of unpredictable calamities are the enemy, like Speed meets Apollo 13.
Not that Cuarón doesn’t understand the virtues of pacing. Moments of calm amidst the interstellar storm offer blessed relief from the unbearable tension and an opportunity for Cuarón and his screenwriter son Jonás to build on Stone’s tragic past. She’s a woman with little to live for, but one who finds hope in the face of certain death. Bullock is the heart of the film and seriously impresses in a role that demands a great deal of her, both physically and emotionally; her performance is all the more remarkable when you remember she’s often playing against nothing other than a greenscreen. Clooney has an easier job, with a part that plays on his effortless charm to great effect. But the real magic of Gravity is the technical wizardry that went on behind the scenes.
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