I like to ease my way into movie reviews. Y’know, maybe start with a seemingly unrelated anecdote or observation that usually — but not always — becomes relevant somewhere by the middle of paragraph two. Where possible, I like to bookend in a similar fashion. There are times, though, where the movie is so compelling and I’m so absorbed that I forget to think about the intro to the review as I’m watching it (and for some reason, that’s when I do my best movie review intro thinking). Watching Gravity today was one such compelling instance. Look. It’s very good. It’s very good indeed. I loved it. You should go see it.
The movie starts in a sedate enough fashion as we float in orbit with three scientists working on the Hubble Space Telescope from an attached space shuttle. Matt Kawalski (George Clooney) is supposed to be the guy in charge but we find him buzzing around the structure on a jet-pac in an impromptu attempt to break the space walk record and expending fuel that one suspects he’ll come to wish he’d saved not too far down the line. Meanwhile, novice astronaut Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is desperately trying to find the telescopic equivalent of switching it off and then switching it back in again. From the outset, it’s clear that she’s the exact opposite of Kawalski. She’s the timid rookie to his confident veteran. There’s a third astronaut up there whose face we never see — well, never fully see — but don’t worry about him. And don’t worry about Ed Harris who plays Houston. This movie is all about Bullock and Clooney.
Once we’re introduced and comfortable with our two leads, director and writer Alfonso Cuarón (Prisoner of Azkaban) throws a spanner in the works in the shape of an exploded Russian satellite whose debris is hurtling towards our heroes. If you’ve seen the trailer — and if you haven’t, I recommend you look it out — you’ll already know the outcome. The space telescope and the shuttle are destroyed rather dramatically — all the more so because there’s no sound in the vacuum of space — and Stone and Kawalski are left drifting separately away from Earth into the depths of the solar system. Oh dear.
I’ve never actively disliked Sandra Bullock before in the same way I’ve actively disliked Jennifer Aniston. Or James Franco. I mean, Speed wasn’t bad. Here, given that she must be in 95% of the frames, she’s a compelling lead with a character who grows as the movie progresses and at every step of the way, she’s believable and sympathetic. I can’t help but like George Clooney in everything I’ve seen him in and while his character is the stereotypical foil to Bullock’s, he’s his charming twinkly-eyed self and I have to admit, if I was in Stone’s place, a George-Clooney-shaped Kawalski might just be enough to talk me down from a panic attack.
For me, though, the star of the show is Cuarón. Yes, the visuals are stunning and giddy. And yes the acting is top-notch. Despite its setting in the infinite blackness of space, the director uses all his skills to manage the tension and pace, to make it a tightly claustrophobic experience. There’s a moment when Stone is giving a reading of her dwindling oxygen levels and sitting in the cinema, I felt it too because I realised I was holding my breath. In its exhausting 90 minute running time, it feels like the camera cuts about six times, which just accentuates the helplessness and lack of escape.
It’s no 2001 but it doesn’t try to be. So if you’re looking for the rebirth of man, you’re going to be disappointed, something I suspect you’ll be used to if you go into every movie expecting to find the rebirth of man. Instead, and for everyone else, what you get for your money is a genuinely thrilling rollercoaster ride that makes you think about the human will for survival against a background of infinity that can’t help but snort at the very idea of such a notion.
It’s very good. It’s very good indeed. I loved it. You should go see it. And that’s the best bookend I can leave.