The word ‘breathtaking’ is bandied about a lot in film reviews, but when was the last time a film truly had the power to leave its audience gasping for air, pinned to their seats, sick and dizzy? Children of Men displayed the depth of Alfonso Cuarón’s directorial skills: think of the eight-minute shakycam battle scene, as he zoomed from bloody close-up to hectic overview without breaking the shot. But nothing Cuarón has done in the past comes close to matching the astonishing beauty, force and originality of Gravity. This isn’t just the best-looking film of the year, it’s one of the most awe-inspiring achievements in the history of special-effects cinema. So it’s a shame that – as is so often the case with groundbreaking effects movies – the emotional content can’t quite match up to the visual.
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney play astronaunts whose trip in space is violently interrupted by a catastrophic debris collision. Cut off from ground communications and drifting in space, their only hope lies in making it to the International Space Station before their air supply runs out.
The first half is close to flawless. Like the astronauts, Cuarón’s ‘camera’ is completely untethered, allowing for astonishing feats of cinematic dexterity: as Stone spirals off into deep space, spinning uncontrollably, we overtake and travel inside her helmet, her breath the only thing we can hear, her panicked gaze becoming the camera’s view. The effect is nauseating, but gloriously so.
But then reality intrudes, and the film loses pace. A backstory that would have been a powerful emotional kicker is played lightly here. As Gravity nears its conclusion, honest sentiment is replaced by weepy mawkishness. Ironically, the effect is to push us away from the characters, and out of the flawless, all-encompassing imaginative space that Cuarón has so painstakingly created. Tom Huddleston
Dir Alfonso Cuaron Category IIB, 90 mins, opens on Thu Oct 3