Mark Kermode has long championed Inception – Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi film that coupled the fantastical world of dreams with the usually dry subjects of corporate takeovers, daddy issues and suicide – as an example of intelligent filmmaking. In his 2010 review, The Quiff surmised it was ‘a film that imagines that the multiplex masses aren’t so dumb after all!’ So what’s happened in those three years since? Well, not much. Nolan made another Batman film, Ryan Reynolds proved the Green Lantern’s powers could produce anything except a decent script and the Twilight and Fast and Furious franchises have dominated the market. It’s hardly been the fall of the Bastille.
Thank heavens then for Gravity; Alfonso Cuaron’s first directorial feature since 2006’s Children of Men. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are astronauts performing a routine mission to repair the Hubble Space Probe. Bullock is the fledgling astronaut on her first mission, with only six months training under her belt (‘Does that include holidays?’ Quips one of her teammates). Clooney is the rakish veteran now on his final expedition and looking forward (maybe?) to retiring.
When the debris from a defunct satellite catastrophically interrupts them in the course of their duties, they, along with the other members of their crew, find themselves cut off from communications with Mission Control. And that’s as much as we’re going to say. The trailers for Gravity have been somewhat thrifty in plot telling and we’d like to perform the courtesy of doing the same. Gravity is a film best gone into knowing as little possible.
What we can say is that Gravity is definitely one of the best films to crash into 2013. Cuaron’s direction is sublime and he deftly constructs a claustrophobic atmosphere in the large, unfeeling void that is space. Often switching to the point of view of his main players, Cuaron doesn’t just want you to emphasise with the panic and fear on display, he wants you slap bang in the middle, gasping for breath and questioning the futility of your existence. This is one of the few times we can think of where we actively recommend seeing a film in 3D over 2D. Yes, he’s that good. But it’s not just Cuaron’s party. Emmanuel Lubezki is, as always, at his side providing sumptuous cinematography that would make the most heartless of stones emote.
On the acting stakes, this is Bullock’s time to shine. As medical engineer Ryan Stone, Bullocks provides us with a performance that makes you wonder why she ever bothers with films like The Proposal. Fragile, yet determined, she is the backbone of this film; displaying strength in the face of adversity and providing a genuinely strong female character, where strength isn’t represented by wearing tight PVC and karate kicking people in the kick. And if a scene involving a nursery rhyme doesn’t move, then we pity you. Clooney, meanwhile, shows once again that he can bring his charming bastard routine to pretty much any situation and make it work. Here, as Matt Kowalski, his quick wit and bravado is almost a mask to hide the uncertainty of his survival, but it’s also there to act as a rock for Stone to hold on to.
Numerous themes run throughout and, like Nolan’s work, will be picked apart for years to come. People will point at the signposted theme of rebirth – and honestly, these moments are the weakest parts due to their being just too on the nose – but for us this is a tale of acceptance and moving on. Everyone has been left with an opportunity to sink or swim, and it’s their decisions on which way to go that truly define them.
Put simply, Gravity is a wonderful balance between storytelling and filmmaking. Now, please. Please, please, please can we have more of these?