Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) struggle to survive after an encounter with a debris field leaves them adrift, 600km above the surface of the Earth.
Gravity is gearing up to be one of the biggest films at this late stage of 2013, and director Alfonso Cuaron must be pretty pleased. Not only has Gravity been five years in the making, but the film has gone through multiple casting changes and, with a budget of $100 million, could have been the biggest disaster of the year. The good news is that all of these fears are unfounded.
George Clooney plays Matt Kowalski, an experienced astronaut on his final mission. Clooney plays a familiar character; Matt is cocky but likeable, and incredibly good at what he does. Since this type of character Clooney’s wheelhouse, he does admirably, and his jokey banter and reassuring voice go a long way to balance out Bullock’s less confident character.
Sandra Bullock, as Ryan Stone, is the less experienced of the central duo. This is her first space mission and, when things go wrong – as we know they must – she is the one who literally, and figuratively, spins out of control. Gravity is Bullock’s film, and she shoulder’s the burden ably. Not only does she treat the emotional scenes with a gentle touch, but she plays Ryan as a relatable character, so the audience has little choice but to relate to her.
Alfonso Cuaron has created a beautiful, familiar and alien world in gravity. The Earth looks incredible from 600km up, and the visual effects are little short of spectacular. For the first time this year, the 3D IMAX technology is used to its full potential, and adds layers of beauty, depth and terror to the action on screen. There are some beautiful visual moments that are obviously homage to the great space movies that have gone before – including the Star Child from 2001: A Space Odyssey – and the representation of our planet is a beautiful one. Cuaron has done a fantastic job at making the familiar, unfamiliar but it is in his character choices that the film starts to falter slightly.
The dialogue is charming in it’s simplicity, and fits the tone of the film – few people are going to waste words when oxygen is short – but we never really find out much about the characters. Kowalski’s jokes add lightness to the film, while Stone’s fear reflects that of the audience; this environment is as strange for us as it is for her. While this is Bullock’s film – and I will be damn surprised if she does not get an Oscar nod for her work here – Stone is not quite the strong female character that we may think she is. While Stone is the everywoman of the piece, she only begins to grow and evolve as a character through the prompting of the male character, Kowalski. As well as this, it feels like the great emotional reveal about Stone – which I am not going to spoil – is simply inserted to allow the audience to identify with her, and care whether she survives.
Gravity is a beautiful, harrowing and terrifying film, beautifully realised in IMAX 3D. Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is sumptuous, lonely and utterly beautiful and Steven Price’s score never feels intrusive or overblown. Bullock and Clooney work incredibly well together, and Bullock effortlessly carries the film on her shoulders. It’s just a shame that her character relies on some familiar character choices.