Direction: Alfonso Cuaron
Actors: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
From its majestic opening shot, filmed in a single take lasting nearly 14 minutes, we are gripped. The soundtrack rises and the visuals assume laser-sharp clarity in the vast, noise-free expanse of space. And for once, there in no rush of tempo, frantic editing or gratuitous special effects which have become mandatory for retaining the audience's attention span.
Instead, in the elegantly crafted Gravity, Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien) invites you to partake in a realm of near silence which erupts only in dire crises. If Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was an inquiry into humanity's cosmic purpose, Cuaron's cautionary tale about the hazards involved in an earth-orbit mission is a survival thriller with a difference.
The 3D format is never overwhelming. It is used judiciously and sparingly, frequently to heighten the emotional moments rather than serving as a battering ram of laser pyrotechnics.
A two-hander essentially featuring a medical engineer (Bullock) on her maiden space voyage and a veteran astronaut (Clooney) on the verge of hanging up his boots, the sidebar characters are never visible. In the event, the viewer comes close to the heart and minds of its two protagonists, at the outset barely visible themselves behind heavy-set space suits. They are accompanied by a NASA officer of Indian origin who hums "Mera joota hai Japani", catching the nostalgia for vintage Hindi film songs endemic of droves of Asians settled or born abroad.
For a while, there is much levity in the air, until their shuttle is suddenly destroyed by a cluster of satellite debris. The Indian officer is blown to smithereens, but his family album photo isn't. The survivor duo is running out of oxygen and tumbling un-tethered in an environment of zero gravity. The veteran remains cool, guiding the panicked novice through seemingly insurmountable odds till he vanishes into the darkness, only to return later in a subliminal interlude of magic realism.
That's practically the sum and substance of the sparse screenplay co-written by the director along with his son, Jonas Cuaron. Mercifully, the tragic back story involving the engineer's young daughter is handled with restraint. Those de rigueur flashbacks to terra firma are strictly avoided.
A woman of substance and spleen, the meta-American heroine could be from anywhere at any particular point of time. Quite audaciously, Cuaron gives second billing to the charismatic George Clooney. And it is to the actor's credit that he gallantly allows Sandra Bullock to steal the honours.
In a career-redefining role, she is excellent, shuttling between a blitz of moods and attitudes, without ever losing sight of the ace up her sleeve---resilience. Filmed wondrously by Cuaron's longtime cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, with an accent on black, silver and indigo textures, Gravity restores our faith in today's Hollywood cinema. Miss it at your own risk.