“The performance of Sandra Bullock’s career” essentially sums up the buzz surrounding Gravity. So in stark contrast to my heresy of this week, I did indeed go into the cinema with high expectations.
That’s not entirely due to the trailers and pre-release chatter. Alfonso Cuaron has the great distinction of being the director of the only Harry Potter film worth a damn; The Prisoner of Azkaban. (The Deathly Hallows, Part I wasn’t bad, to be fair, but mainly because it was the deliciously bleak first half of the story).
It’s worth pointing out, too, that I didn’t see it in 3D. Gravity is apparently the film to see in 3D, the film which makes it all worth it. Well, they said that about Avatar, too. So no 3D. No gimmicks. Just cinema.
And it’s hard to think what 3D could have added to Gravity. This film is one of the closest that I’ve seen that comes close to a true work of art. It was a visual feast, with some truly beautiful views of the Earth from space, as well as a simple-yet-compelling story, and some (two) brilliant acting performances.
Doctor-turned-astronaut Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) fixes the Hubble Space Telescope, as mission commander Matt Kowalski zips around in his jet pack. When a storm of debris shreds the shuttle and telescope, Stone and Kowalski are the only survivors, and make a perilous journey towards the ISS and — hopefully — safety.
This is a very claustrophobic film. With only the two characters — plus a few extra voices — it has a distinctly intimate feel. You spend almost of all it in very close quarters with Stone, following her progress as she tries to keep one step ahead of a shivering, gasping death.
A large part of this is thanks to the score. The music is a subtle touch, constantly reflecting the mood of the moment. But it is emphasised by the silence of space. It’s a theme of the film, yes, but it’s also an incredibly powerful device. I recall Sunshine, one of my favourite space films and one with a similarly oppressive feel, decided against external space shots being accurately silent because it felt “cheap”.
Gravity shows that, done right, it can be enormously powerful.
Throughout the film, I was on the edge of my seat. My stomach clenched at every close moment, my breathing slowed as oxygen started to run low, and I shivered when the temperatures started to drop. More than anything that’s a sign of a film really sucking the audience in. For the ninety minutes of its running time, I was focused wholly on Stone’s plight.
And this was Bullock’s film. Clooney was every bit as good as you’d expect, especially as the all-American good guy, but it was Bullock’s riveting performance as an astronaut struggling to summon up the will to carry on and to survive which carried it. She embraces the visual metaphors for life, particularly at the end, as she pulls herself up in the perfect closing image.
This was an excellent film. The hype was right for once, and this one excellent hour-and-a-half of film entertainment which I can’t recommend highly enough.