A scene from SUNSHINE, directed by Danny Boyle for Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Sunshine (2007, Danny Boyle)

Sunshine appears to be an amalgam of Alien, 2001 and Event Horizon (at least, if Event Horizon‘s previews adequately communicate the film’s content, not having seen it). There are Alien references abound, a handful of 2001 ones, and no Event Horizon ones I’m aware of… I imagine they’d try to hide those as well as possible. It also owes more than a little to Solaris–both versions. And for the majority of Sunshine, it’s a frequent disappointment. Danny Boyle and Alex Garland–after 28 Days Later–doing sci-fi doesn’t make much sense, especially since the resulting Sunshine is a standard science fiction movie, as opposed to Days doing something different, both in terms of story and technology.

So, during that first forty-five minutes when bad things happen and characters develop and the story moves along towards the inevitable final question… I got a little bored. Boyle’s finest contribution to the film, I thought during those minutes, was his ability to cast, direct and shoot actors. Cillian Murphy and Rose Byrne are, obviously, excellent and there was never any question as to whether or not they would be excellent. But Chris Evans also turns in a really great performance, as does Cliff Curtis. It’s the best Cliff Curtis in eight years or so. So Boyle casts well, big deal. No, it’s what a good performance he gets out of Michelle Yeoh and even Troy Garity. Yeoh’s got a couple really good scenes and Garity’s sturdy throughout.

But, one must remember, all Alien did was tell a science fiction in “scary movie” language and Sunshine‘s no different. The moment my fiancée jumped space ship was when “Freddy Kruger” showed up. The monster, the bad guy, the whatever–Sunshine needed to have one because, besides some really good acting moments and a couple really nice dilemma in space scenes, the film was nothing new. Until the hero moments, which, of course, signal the beginning of the third act, I kept wishing Murphy, Bryne and Evans would reunite for some other movie. I always forget–even when I’m comparing Boyle’s success at directing actors in this film to Trainspotting–I always forget Boyle’s visual ability, through shot, sound and editing. Trainspotting‘s full of it, but didn’t think those abilities would translate. And I was wrong.

I have never seen a movie–with so many mediocre plot points and set-pieces–ascend as quickly as Sunshine. One moment it’s a disappointment, the next it’s middling, then it’s getting up there, and, finally, it’s pure wonderment at the possibilities of the film medium. It’s not a long period of sustained enchantment, but it’s a really good three or five minutes. Boyle does things in those last minutes nearer the level of 2001 than most of his fellows. Of course, they didn’t have Cillian Murphy, so it’s probably not a far comparison, which is why I didn’t name them.

I don’t know if I was expecting–from the plot description–the Apollo 13 of fictionalized space adventure (after the trailer, I knew I was getting something more comparable to Days). But it wouldn’t work as anything but Danny Boyle and Alex Garland remaking Event Horizon, because otherwise… it would have probably been The Core in space.

Looking at the response, I realize, even thought Murphy suffers a lot of complements, I did not emphasize enough how good Byrne and Evans are in this film. It’s not even Byrne’s best performance of the year, which is unfortunate since that performance is in 28 Weeks Later (just because the character has more to do). But Evans is an unexpected talent.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Boyle; written by Alex Garland; director of photography, Alwin Küchler; edited by Chris Gill; music by John Murphy and Underworld; production designer, Mark Tildesley; produced by Andrew Macdonald; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Rose Byrne (Cassie), Cliff Curtis (Searle), Chris Evans (Mace), Troy Garity (Harvey), Cillian Murphy (Capa), Sanada Hiroyuki (Kaneda), Mark Strong (Pinbacker), Benedict Wong (Trey) and Michelle Yeoh (Corazon).


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