Sponsored by ST. ERMIN'S HOTEL, LONDON
Sponsored by ST. ERMIN'S HOTEL, LONDON
Release Date: 8 November 2013 (UK)
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris (voice)
Screening Reviewed: London Film Festival American Airlines Gala Press Screening
Reviewed by Kyle Pedley
It’s difficult when reaching for superlatives to describe the impact and majesty of viewing Gravity and not default for the predictable, trite, tabloid-friendly puns. ‘Out of this world’, ‘stellar’ and the like seem tailor-made for trashier film critiquing of Alfonso Cuaron’s 3D galactic drama, and yet despite this, as plaudits go they are entirely accurate and appropriate - there has been nothing quite like Gravity, and if even for the technical wonderment alone it comes as a must-see experience surpassing even the likes of Avatar and Prometheus as an exercise in aesthetic immersion and awe. At a time where 3D as a buzz word has seemingly had its heyday and some would say is hovering on the verge of Chapter 11, the past few years have nonetheless each seemed to offer a critical and commercial darling. After the initial Avatar surge, 2011 saw Martin Scorsese bring Hugo to cinemas, reaping a slew of Oscar nominations and wins in the process, and last year Ang Lee picked up his second Best Director golden guy for his stunning Life of Pi. Gravity is not only inarguably this years 3D offering of choice, but also very possibly the finest of the bunch, and will undoubtedly and deservedly attract similar awards notice come February.
Following on from the films opening - an emphatic reminder of the impossibility of living in space, including a key note about the total lack of sound - we are introduced immediately to it’s starkness and the beautiful, ominous antagonist it will prove to be for the ensuing 90 minutes. Few films connote so much and captivate so instantly with such focus and simplicity, with the arresting visuals and a stunning prolonged single take which revolves around a Hubble telescope service job being conducted in orbit by a team including our central characters, astronauts Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock, the masculine irony of her character’s name acknowledged) and Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney). Their relationship is accessible and somewhat rudimentary, with Clooney’s Kowalsky the experienced, somewhat cocksure veteran and Bullock’s Stone the brilliant but introverted medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, but it works, and Cuaron and his cast do an impressively subtle job of endearing these characters to us and fleshing them out in a measured and understated fashion. It is only when the inevitable jeopardy and tragedies arrive that we come to appreciate the genuine connection that has been established both between them and to us as an audience.
In some ways Gravity shares a lot of its DNA with another survival drama reviewed at this years London Film Festival, J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost, with the two eventually coming to share the same premise of a single, isolated character fighting for survival in increasingly desperate and hostile circumstances. So too, as noted when reviewing All Is Lost, do very occasionally the worsening conditions and admittedly tense and thrilling set pieces threaten to verge on the overly convenient or bemusing. Without wishing to spoil too much, there is a recurring mcguffin which appears every 90 minutes (in-universe) and repeatedly causes death and devastation yet continually gives our heroine nary a scratch. Stone arrives at a neighbouring station at precisely the absolute worst moment possible. Aforementioned moments of huge destruction and devastation occur and again our protagonist is luckily just flung about somewhat. A fire extinguisher, really?
Yet even as I write these gripes they feel a betrayal of the overall brilliance of what Gravity gets so very right. These minor faults aside, literally a sprinkling of moments where credulity is strained perhaps a dash too much, are far, far outweighed by the breathtaking, nerve-wracking cinematic rapture that constitutes the majority of the running time. Never before has space been so simply yet powerfully depicted on film, and in so boldly tearing off so many of the cliches and overt action movie tropes that could easily plague a movie with this premise, Cuaron has produced an amazingly concise and focused thrill ride-cum-character study that is entirely transportive and bewilderingly believable throughout. There are truly moments where you will be both on the edge of your seat whilst simultaneously very potentially moved to tears without even realising, as it is rare that Gravity lets go once it has taken hold.
Widely regarded as one of the industries most endearing and beloved leading ladies, an enormous amount of Gravity’s emotional resonance is courtesy of Sandra Bullock. Clooney is earnest and likable but ultimately plays his Clooney schtick, whereas thankfully, Bullock’s Ryan Stone is not a vessel for any of the actresses trademark whimsy or comedic sass but rather demonstrates a discipline and trepidation that the actress has always been capable of but rarely gets the chance to spotlight. Her innate warmth and likability shining through, Bullock nails the trauma and backstory of her character with grace and devoid of indulgence, giving what is surely her most powerfully subdued turn to date. There are moments where we are literally inside her visor, millimeters away from Stone’s face and with no dialogue or action Bullock commands the film and anchors everything the audience should be feeling.
Having already waxed lyrical about what it is to both see and hear Gravity (foreboding silence and the remarkable sound mixing and editing all being characters in and of themselves), this is resolutely a film to experience in the most extravagant and egregious manner possible. IMax, 3D, Atmos, Smell-O-Vision - go to town and witness the most visually audacious cinema-going experience of the year bar none in its most stunning incarnation possible. It is almost distressing to imagine how much of the experience will be lost on home release, irrespective of the quality of televisions, this is a meticulously crafted technical powerhouse constructed with such craft and care (particularly noteworthy that not a single frame was shot in actual zero gravity) and offering such pure spectacle that it really should be seen as big and loud and brilliant as possible.
On paper, Gravity’s credentials alone are impressive - Cuaron having proven himself a continually imaginative director with a penchant for visual splendour and an almost elegaic style of his own. He helmed what remains the most distinctive and characterful Harry Potter installment, and with two of Hollywood’s most respected and charismatic stars on board, the recipe for something wonderful was in place. Add in an unprecedented vision, scope and craft that is shared across-the-board, Steven Price’s evocative, pounding and at-times almost ecclesiastical scoring and a genuine sense of both wonderment and danger throughout and you get some idea of the standard of moviemaking at work here. We, as the audience are the ones who ultimately reap the benefits, experiencing in Gravity an astronomical level of entertainment and a quality of cinema that truly soars in vision and grandeur yet, like the titular force itself, keeps us lodged firmly in our seats with inexorable power, impact and conviction. It is, quite simply, one of the best space movies ever made and an absolute must see, on as big a screen as possible.
Preferably one that can be seen from space.
(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * * * (5 out of 5 Stars)
The 57th BFI London Film Festival runs in full from 09 - 20 October 2013 in partnership with American Express. Press Screenings for the festival began 23 September 2013.