Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Plot: When a satellite is caught in a storm of shrapnel, two astronauts are caught in a desperate dash for survival to make it back home.
Older movies tend to get portrayed in a better light than some more modern movies. Why? Well, they have simplicity on their side. While there is something satisfying about sprawling epics of twists and turns like the original Matrix, sometimes it is easier to engage with the broader strokes. A simple damsel in distress movie that allows itself to focus on bigger themes, like characters and settings. Die Hard is one of the most simple action movies out there, but in being so, it is extremely enjoyable, as we easily cut to the chase. That is why Gravity is such a good film. Despite being produced in 2013, it finds a simple story and that really makes it one of the better films in a long time.
Survival is the word of the day here. Survival in its purest form. In very broad terms, this is little more than a disaster movie. We are introduced to two astronauts, one a veteran, the other a rookie, and before too long, they are caught in a deadly situation and are forced to go to extreme lengths to survive. The originality comes from being set in space. I have always been terrified of space; it is cold, massive and deadly. As this movie proves, things can go from quiet to menacing in mere seconds, meaning that even when this movie settles into a calmer moment, the action never really lets up. It is still waiting in the distance for the most unexpected moment to strike. Cuaron’s eye for filming space is superb and he gets every thrill and chill from the surroundings.
The thrill you get with Gravity will be akin to that one feels when faced with a horror movie. It is the same knot in the stomach, the same uncomfortable, yet mesmerising visuals. The most heart-pounding moments are when Clooney and Bullock are being tossed around space, unable to give themselves too much momentum, helpless against the trajectory space gives them. Every pull on their tether sends shivers down your spine. Every impact. Every obstacle that knocks against them. Some of the scenes in Gravity are some of the most non-stop and exciting I have seen in cinema for a long time. And Cuaron films every beat perfectly. Every camera angle is majestically original in itself. The first shot is ten minutes long. The angle jumps from first person to a close-up of Bullock’s terrified face through her space helmet. This is the first film I have seen that I wished I had taken the time to watch in 3D.
Sandra Bullock has never really impressed me as an actress (see my Speed review), yet here she is truly phenomenal. She is given a little back-story, a tough past that she draws courage from in her darkest moments. Her real charm comes from when she is deliriously weak, beaten and battered by this adventure. The scene where she draws comfort from a stray transmission from Earth is heart-breaking and the kind of performance that is too small to be worthy of an OSCAR, but you still really want her to get a nomination for it. George Clooney is… well, George Clooney, but that is not a bad thing. His calm, experienced performance is needed to bring some stability to the character and his monologues are refreshingly amusing, bringing that tiny slither of comedy that keeps you from breaking under the sheer tension of this film. Also look out for another actor who gets a cameo at the start, a subtle reference to Apollo 13.
Cuaron’s direction is the most breath-taking thing here. This is one of the most exciting productions that have been undertaken in a long time now. Every technique up the director’s sleeve is outside the box and imaginative. More praise must be given to Sandra Bullock and Clooney for managing to keep up with the tough shoot. It is made up of precise movements, every little detail carefully orchestrated and measured in Cuaron’s mind. Clooney’s role was meant to be given to Robert Downey Jr., but he was intimidated by this total lack of improvisation. Even if you aren’t truly convinced by the disaster movie plot or the characters that could have done with some more fleshing out, you need to come for the precise direction. Every frame is beautiful, every moment is stunning and yet the film never forgets the most important part of the story: the story.
Final Verdict: I have heard film of the year bandied around a lot in discussion of this film. I agree.