NOTE: I rarely supply a special note on 3D in my reviews, but in the case of "Gravity" I endorse the use of the technology and advise you to see the picture on the largest screen possible.
2013, 91mins, 12
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Writer (s): Jonas Cuaron, Alfonso Cuaron
Cast includes: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris
UK Release Date: 8th November 2013
“Gravity” is a remarkable cinematic achievement, leaving a dynamic visual imprint with an epic 13-minute opening take, and somehow building from there. It is visceral roller-coaster cinema with a soul, welcoming back director Alfonso Cuaron (last seen helming 2006’s critical darling “Children of Men”) to the industry with a honking great bang, allowing the Mexican film-maker to unfurl all manner of aesthetic magic before our eyes. Of course despite a plot deficient structure “Gravity” also delivers serious thrills, solid performances and a rich thematic undercurrent in keeping with the auteur’s registered fascinations concerning life and death. It’s a complete package from start to finish, a work of vast importance that ratchets up impeccably wrought feats of fright and awe over a refreshingly snappy 91 minutes.
Sent into space for the purpose of satellite repairs, Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and cocksure astronaut Kowalski (George Clooney) are left stranded when a rogue shower of debris ravages their mission, the impact pushing Ryan into the vast ocean of blackness, and labouring Kowalski with the unenviable task of rescuing her. As they eventually regroup, the pair bond in an attempt to reach several space-stations that might represent salvation, battling the harshness of their environment and a dwindling oxygen supply en route.
I can’t recall a film-maker in the modern era using technology and their camera with the dexterity Cuaron does here; capturing the vastness of outer space through long-takes and expansive wide shots, allowing viewers to soak up the sense of isolation that envelops the film’s protagonists. The freeness and stillness of the environment is playfully depicted in the opening scene, tricking its heroes into a false sense of security, the only threat coming from Ryan’s half-digested lunch. However “Gravity” is a movie intent on defying expectation and unearthing deeper existentialist truths, exposing both the life-giving and deathly elements of our universe, forcing the audience and its central characters through hopeless moments of unbearable tension, assailed by the danger of the very Zero-G frivolity that make the initial sequence so disarmingly soft. When disaster strikes Cuaron gets gloriously ballsy; extreme close-ups (the camera manages to get everywhere here, including the inside of the astronaut helmets) to promote humanity and intimacy contrasted alongside massive, wide vistas to convey the endlessness of space and its perpetual menace. It’s a recipe that may sound simple on paper, but in execution it’s a complicated and disorientating myriad of creativity and insight.
Bullock is handed a basic (but fertile) arc to work with and dissembles it expertly, emoting with a deft combination of Hollywood showboating and subdued turmoil, gifting “Gravity” a gripping emotional hook in its final act. “Gravity” explores faith and religion through its trajectory and imagery; the notion bubbling over potently during a moment where Ryan is assailed by a cackling devil and his baying dogs via rogue transmission. The sequence is a startling highlight, the appearance of an angel and Steve Prince’s rousing score fashioning enough mainstream lustre and necessary pathos to sell Ryan’s conflict. Bullock must also be commended, it’s the best the actress has ever been. If she can win an Academy award for her stoic but unexciting work in 2009’s “The Blind Side”, she’s got to be a serious contender with “Gravity”.
The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is effortlessly rich, each still so believably detailed and deliberately framed that it could qualify as a valuable painting. Cuaron and Lubezki seem to enjoy a healthy synergy with “Gravity”, admiring and recoiling with equal measure, basking in the beauty of an aurora borealis before letting the frame become consumed with nightmarish stretches of dark nothingness. The world is explored and observed sharply, with CGI perfectly rendering the outposts on which many of the piece’s scariest set-pieces explode. The incomparable 3D work is particularly useful here, Cuaron not so much forcing items out of the screen, but rather slowly pulling viewers in, often just before a fast-paced and almost tangibly realised threat comes hurtling out of the ether. Not since “Avatar” has this technology had a case that argues so compellingly for its future as “Gravity”.
The finale boasts a certain ambiguity for those willing to engage with subtext, the Eden-esque visuals presented offering up a multitude of readings when aligned with earlier shots. “Gravity” can be enjoyed as a superbly mounted palm-sweater or as a more meditative contemplation on existence, but for maximum gratification I would advise you to embrace it as both. That way you’ll digest 2013’s most exhibitionist work as the indisputable gem it is.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013