Sandra Bullock in Gravity
"Alfonso Cuaron's film comes with a powerful force of its own - one which drags you towards the edge of your seat, forces your nails down into the cinema arm rests and sucks the breath out of you."

Alfonso Cuarón's film comes with a powerful force of its own - one which drags you towards the edge of your seat, forces your nails down into the cinema arm rests and sucks the breath out of you. His opening is a tour de force that marries the technical excellence of astonishingly good 3D with a simple set-up that immediately makes you fear for the characters. His neatest trick is one of immersion - we aren't marvelling at the wizardry and wondering how it was achieved or trying to work out if the laws of physics allow what is happening, but rather wholly swallowed up by elegance of the moment, emotionally tethered to the characters from the start.

Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock, whose performance I've already written about here), is a scientist and rookie astronaut on her first spacewalk, working alongside veteran space dude Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), who is performing his last.

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The atmosphere is jovial, allowing us to take in the enormity of what we're looking at - people working in the void as the world twirls luminously below - and to get a feel for Matt's laidback humour. "I've got a bad feeling about this mission," he deadpans, with the practised art of a man delivering a punchline heard by his mission control dozens of times before. His ease is in contrast to Stone's discomfort, disorientated - like us - by the vertiginous enormity of it all, even as she tries to focus on the task in hand.

Any sense of security is shattered as news comes through that trouble at a nearby Russian satellite has sent a deadly slew of debris spinning through space and all of a sudden the graceful and balletic peace is shattered by a noiseless frenzy, beautiful and horrifying in its scope. There we are, right with them, adrift in space, wondering if and how they will make it back to Earth.

Cuarón uses space like a blank canvas on which to paint the details of humanity. At one point we're struck by the vanished life who once owned a Marvin The Martian doll, at others we find our hearts racing along to Bullock's ragged breath or are captivated by the beautiful but terrifying thought of her rotating like a foetus in an airlock. Bullock's performance is superb, as she handles a weighty back story with delicate reactions, while Cuarón (writing with his son Jonás) uses the sparse scripting to balance intimate tragedy against more immediate dangers in order to explore one of our deepest human instincts - the will to survive. All the while, as the tension ebbs and flows, Emmanuel Lubezki 's fluid camerwork roves through space as the world spins on, impassively.

There are drawbacks to the film's final act, in terms of the desire for neatness and the scoring from Steven Price, which although having supported the film's tension well in the early stages of the film, takes on a New Age bluntness that detracts badly from the final 15 minutes. Gravity remains, however, a visual triumph that reminds us in an age when people's focus is so often on a small screen, that there is unrivalled joyous delight to be found in cinematic spectacle - see it in 3D and on as big a screen as you can.

Reviewed on: 11 Oct 2013
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Gravity packshot
A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.
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Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Writer: Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón

Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Eric Michels, Basher Savage

Year: 2013

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US, UK


SSFF 2013
London 2013

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