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Gravity

gv-fp-0127rDirected by Alfonso Cuaron
Stars Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Mission specialist Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is having a bad day at work. Set adrift after a catastrophic debris impact on the space shuttle during her first space walk, Stone and fellow astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), must somehow survive in the unforgiving void and return to earth.

Director Alfonso Cuaron (Children Of Men) approaches a genre of science fiction that has not had many adherents since the heady days of the space race, that of the real life space disaster. Jettisoning the standard sci-fi tropes of chest bursting aliens or killer cyborgs from the future, he instead presents a realistic scenario (save perhaps for the fantasy of a fully-funded NASA) in our everyday world – albeit 2000 kilometres up, in the cold, dark, hostile vacuum of space.

Cuaron produces a tightly planned piece of action cinema, keeping the audience on the edge of their seat for almost the entirety of its 90 minute running time. Revelling in the harshness of vacuum and the strange cruelty of Newtonian physics, he creates an entirely plausible world to threaten the hapless astronauts. Given entire freedom by zero gravity, the camera is rarely locked in place, instead revolving around the subjects, increasing the sense of disorientation. Often these revolutions shift into a POV shot emphasising the sense of claustrophobia caused by the suit or by a capsule interior. The next moment it will be swept away, placing the astronaut as a mere dot against the black. The special effects further enhance this sense of immersion, continuing the utter believability of this vision. There is a very visceral sense to the destruction that actually made audience members flinch.

As for the stellar, although minimal, cast, Clooney has a lot of fun as veteran space-jock Kowalski, bringing a sense of derring-do combined with practised competence to the character. Ed Harris, as the voice of Mission Control, provides a welcome subtle reference to previous space movies, The Right Stuff, Apollo 13 and Armageddon. Ultimately though, this is Sandra Bullock’s show. Creating yet another in the proud science fiction tradition of strong female characters, Specialist Stone runs the gamut of emotions, allowing Bullock to stretch her acting range. It is often easy to forget that Bullock actually has an Academy Award (The Blind Side), and instead remember her for fluff roles like Miss Congeniality. This is a timely reminder of her talent, and one that hopefully garners a nomination in the coming year.

Gravity is the sort of movie that should maintain a place in science fiction fandom. Carefully thought out, meticulously crafted and beautifully realised, it completely captivates the audience with its sense of place and its relentless pacing. Unlike so many recent blockbusters it is spectacle not at the expense of plot or character, but rather on equal footing. Breathtaking cinema.

_ DAVID O’CONNELL

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