If anyone’s seen any of the trailers for this film, the premise is pretty self-explanatory. For those who haven’t a potted explanation. “Gravity” stars Sandra Bullock as Dr Ryan Stone and George Clooney as shuttle commander Matt Kowalski. What starts off as a routine space walk turns into a race against time for the pair as their shuttle is destroyed by a catastrophic debris field. This leaves them with no communications to Earth, a diminishing supply of oxygen and, within ninety minutes, a second pass of the debris field which gathering in size.
Okay, given that description you’d be forgiven for thinking this as your stereotypical action film where the lantern jawed hero or the beautiful heroine saves the day. My response to this is that you may end up watching the wrong film. Granted, there is danger, explosions, and life and death decisions, but this would be selling the film short as this is film that is epic in scale whilst having a very personal focus to it.
Alfonso Cuaron takes on directing duties alongside being one of the writers, alongside Jonas Cuaron and an uncredited script collaborator role by George Clooney. I’ll talk about the direction first. Given that this is a space film, Cuaron uses his canvas to full effect by making space exploration look both beautiful, as seen by the various shots of Earth alongside some really beautiful camera moves which sweep around in a smooth manner, and threatening by using some innovative techniques – not just by using dizzying camera movements alongside CGI “destruction” shots, but with sweeping shots that move from outside the characters in their spacesuits to inside the suits, not only with the actors face on, but to point of view shots where you get to experience the astronauts’ disorientation and sound design and music which uses the cinema speakers to full effect by moving sound all around the viewer which adds to the disorientation and, whether it’s just me, has you looking all around the screen looking for where the next threat is coming from.
The script by the Cuarons and Clooney has the standard beats of a film of this nature – rookie astronaut and a more seasoned commander; inspirational commander seeks to look after his charge, including some witty banter between the pair to keep the rookie’s spirits up; both are cut off from the safety of Earth with no communication; agonising life and death choices… you know what I mean. However, there is a clear intention to make this film a personal one as the film explores themes such as how a person lives their life following a personal tragedy along with the need to hold on to people and the dilemma of whether to submit to death or “rage against the dying of the light”.
This is also a very personal, intimate film by way of casting. There are a few actors who are primarily portrayed through radio transmissions, most notably Ed Harris in the role of “Mission Control”, but the majority of this film has Sandra Bullock and George Clooney front and centre.
Clooney is well cast in the role of Matt Kowalski. He manages to not only convey the relaxed characters that he is known for at the start of this film, but is able to shift this into a believable portrayal of a man who has to take command of an extreme situation, especially when he has to look after the welfare of the character of Ryan. There is also a flirty chemistry between Matt and Ryan, but this is cleverly underplayed and believable in the context that he’s trying to keep Ryan’s spirits up.
Sandra Bullock is equally as well cast in the role of Ryan. The majority of the film’s 91 minutes is focussed on her character and Ms Bullock uses that opportunity to create a multi-faceted character who has the room to move from being a green rookie astronaut to somebody who uses intelligence, determination and some “dumb luck” to survive the accident. However, she also allows room for the more emotional scenes such as when she talks about her background to Matt and an emotionally charged scene where she realises that her only rescue option may not be successful.
Ms Bullock has been tipped as an Oscar candidate for this film and even if she may not be an eventual recipient of a second Academy Award, she is definitely worthy of a strong nomination nod.
If I had one very minor niggle for this film, it would be the ending which I felt could have been slightly earlier to the one shown on screen to add more impact. (I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen the film, but you’ll understand when you watch it).
“Gravity” is a well constructed film all round which manages not to be solely a disaster movie by numbers, but a clever film, as I said earlier, that includes concepts such as the nature of death, not only in how a person faces it (albeit in an “in extremis” scenario in this film) and how it impacts on the people left behind, plus how death informs our behaviours in moving on.