Running Time: 91 mins
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Genre: Sci-Fi, Drama, Thriller
When a routine day on-board the Space-station takes a turn for the worse a medical engineer and an astronaut find themselves in the terrifying position of being lost the vast, dark, nothingness of space. Out of orbit and out of contact the two must work together against impossible odds in an effort to make it back to the safety of a controlled atmosphere.
There’s an old adage that most independent movies are two men in a room talking. If that’s the case then Alfonso Cuarón’s one hundred million dollar Gravity is the most expensive indie flick ever made. It’s also one of the most terrifying. Forget monsters under the bed, vampires that can walk in the day, night, church or garlic-emporium; the vulnerability that comes from being hung out on the edge of your environmental existence to float off into the abyss of space and die slowly is blood curdlingly frightening. Gravity is a one premise film that delivers its objective perfectly. Disregard all the side-stories about children and loss and grief –which feels more than slightly tacked on anyway, this is a simple set-up that is executed with all the skill you would come to expect from the Children of Men helmer.
The aesthetic of the film is breathtaking (please note nothing here is pun-orientated). From the first glimpse of Gravity’s trailer the film had the look of something incredibly complex yet at the same time simplistically beautiful and the film delivers on this contradiction from the first moment. There’s a depth to the darkness that really places the audience inside the suit of Dr. Stone (Bullock) and Kowalski (Clooney). The use of reflection feels almost unintentional in parts yet every moment on screen is perfectly considered and intended. It is truly awe-inspiring. Add to this the use of cinematography to create (and induce) the feel of zero-gravity within the audience and what you have is an visual cinematic experience like no other. As a piece of visual cinema Gravity has but one peer, 2001: A Space Odyssey. All other explorations in space captured on camera pale into the smallest speck of insignificance against the vast backdrop of ever expanding space. I’m no fan of 3D. Most people who I’ve chatted to about cinema know this, and knows my reasons yet with Gravity I must reconsider my position and state I’m no fan of the inferior use of 3D popularised by mediocre movies because in the hands of Cuarón 3D has a purpose in cinema. In fact, 3D is almost raised to a par with a Michelangelo brush-stroke.
Rarely do you get to praise the lack of something in cinema but with Gravity it’s Cuaron’s instincts not to over use music. Cinematic scores, though lovely, are often used to draw out emotion from the audience that the story or visual have failed to do. With the poorest of movies the score is often the saving grace yet Cuarón has opted to strip back his film to the bare necessities when it comes to score. It’s a choice that’s as brave as it is successful and it goes a long-long way to isolating the audience and really filling them with the vulnerability of the film’s protagonists.
Clooney’s performance is a solid by-the-book George performance. It’s as far from his finest as it is from the worst and comes with the as expected level of charm. Think Dr. Doug Ross in space. Likewise Bullock gives a decent performance, she’s full of energy and desperation while at the same time showcasing intelligence and vulnerability yet there is something about both performances that leave you a little bit at a distance with them. Gravity’s biggest strength is also one of its weaknesses. As a piece of cinema with a simple set-up and a drop in feel to it –it works perfectly yet it is this simplicity that harms the relationship between audience and performance…and maybe even actor and performance. There’s never really enough known about the two for you to really care about them. Sure they try and stitch on a dead kid storyline but it is half-hearted and you only really start to feel for them at the vodka scene.
Gravity is perfect visual storytelling. It is the single greatest argument that twenty-first century cinema is as visual a medium as any other artform and as such will no doubt come to be as loved and cherished as 2001 or Solaris (1972). It has the feel and physical flexibility of a rollercoaster ride, the grace of a ballet and the sweat inducing thrill of a fear that’s more instinctive than can be verbalised. There are a few minor issues in the film yet rather than taint the movie they seem to only highlight the surrounding beauty and humanity. A film that raises cinema higher than art, higher than the Gods. Truly excellent.