Only the human race would look at the void hell of space and think ‘we should probably go there’. Time and time again cinema gives us a big long list of reasons to stop and, naturally, no one listens. Look at Alien, Sunshine, Event Horizon, Apollo 13, pick whatever one you like. It all ends in fucking disaster. Even without aliens, the freezing temperatures and eternal vacuum make for the most uninhabitable environment known to man.
Acclaimed director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) takes his particular brand of grim world-weary realism and dark cinematography into space for possibly the most gruelling trip yet. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star as a brilliant medical engineer and veteran space jockey respectively who are thrown into an abyss of isolation when their shuttle is destroyed in a freak accident. With oxygen running low, no link to Earth, and nothing to cling to except each other, the pair float deeper into space for any chance of salvation.
The most incredible thing about Cuaron’s space masterpiece is that very little actually happens. A basic concept is taken and stretched out into a full feature that relies almost entirely on panic and tension to hold the viewer’s gaze. Never before has space exploration looked so treacherous, so tense and terrifying. Spiralling out into the void with no air friction to slow her down, Bullock’s petrified newbie has your heart in your throat. Every time she reaches for a hold, there’s that moment you think, this is it: this is my worst nightmare. But that’s testament to Cuaron’s skill as a director, his camerawork is masterful, taking what could have been ‘pillocks floating in space for an hour and a half’ and makes it a highly kinetic heartfelt terror-venture that nearly flies past in a moment of space-coaster fright.
I say nearly because after the finale you’ll be thankful for the runtime, any longer and Gravity could overstay its welcome. Character development takes the visceral quality of the action and patters it down to a wishy-washy bit of tugging at the heartstrings. There’s nothing wrong whatsoever with Bullocks’ performance, she’s wonderful and most of the film rests on her shoulders, but there’s something predictable about the development of her character. Maybe its Clooney’s charming and deadpan turn as well-humoured realist Kowalsky that makes Bullock’s character seem run of the mill. Gravity’s finale gets a bit preachy too, taking the staunch realism and unpretentious qualities of the adventure and blowing them away in a last blow of humanity’s trumpet. A last blow that leaves the film a bit too glorified.
Gravity is a little repetitive, mostly because Cuaron has the audacity to make a space film entirely based around the physics of space. This is brave, undoubtedly riveting, and stunningly beautiful at its best points, whilst at its worst it gets a little ‘paint-by-numbers’. Even then this is hands down the most intense feature to show at Toronto International Film Festival and – no matter what you think of it, you’ll walk away grateful for gravity.
8,9,11,15th September (TIFF)10th October (LIFF) 8th November (UK)
Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris