2007Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Chris Evans, Cillian Murphy, Michelle Yeoh
ay what you will about Danny Boyle—the talented, if scattershot, British director behind such cult works as Trainspotting and Shallow Grave—but he sure is eclectic. Since the relative failure of 2000’s overhyped The Beach, he has flitted from genre to genre with remarkable poise, if not universal acclaim. 2002’s 28 Days Later re-invented the zombie movie, 2004’s Millions was an unusual kid’s fable, and Sunshine, his latest project, is one of the best astronaut movies in years.
Oddly specific, I know, but this film really is an excellent example of how to make a space mission movie. There’s a strong cast devoid of screen-hogging superstars, a fully formed, realistic spaceship environment for them to operate in, and a planet-saving goal that gives the plot plenty of momentum. Sunshine (the title doesn’t really convey the urgency of the film) is set in the near future, a future in which our sun is slowly dying out (in the brief look at Earth we get, it’s pretty chilly). So we find ourselves on Icarus II, humanity’s last hope at ever revitalizing the sunscreen industry. Included in the motley crew of space geniuses are physicist Capa (rising star Cillian Murphy at his most low-key), roughneck engineer Mace (Chris Evans) and cool-headed psychiatrist Searle (Cliff Curtis), who gets his kicks basking in the blinding light of their closing target. It’s a finely balanced ensemble, with almost every actor getting their standout moment.
Still, a proportionate cast does not a thrilling movie make. Thankfully, not long into Sunshine, things begin to go wrong, as they inevitably tend to do. It’s little things at first, but surely enough the crew is picked off one by one, each death effective in its own creepy, individual way. Even more obvious sci-fi hallmarks (Alien, 2001, Silent Running) are invoked as the Icarus II comes across the predecessors, the Icarus I, whose identical mission failed for unknown reasons. In the past, I’ve found Boyle a little too flashy for his own good, too concerned with impressing the audience visually and aurally to really affect tension or horror. Now, visually and aurally, Sunshine is beyond impressive—considering that the film can’t have had a very high budget, the space shots are extraordinary and the sound work is crushingly intense. However, for the first time, Boyle also achieves a really palpable atmosphere: when the crew of the Icarus II boarded the Icarus I, an ashen corpse of a spaceship, I had to tip my hat. Sunshine is a sinister, forcefully nerve-wracking experience, and it’s the most effective film Danny Boyle has ever made.
Unfortunately, that’s not to say Sunshine doesn’t trip into the pitfalls of all Boyle films. He and Garland can’t resist pushing the more delicate drama of the first eighty minutes into overdrive for the finale, which I won’t spoil. I’ll only say that while the intense, almost slasher-horror feel of the final act is carried off well enough, it doesn’t really gel with the film as a whole, and is also neither properly explained nor efficiently resolved during the frantic final twenty minutes. 28 Days Later ended with all the potency of a damp fart, whereas Sunshine leaves one sufficiently shaken, but not quite awed enough to confirm it as an absolute classic of the genre.
Sunshine is currently in wide release in the United Kingdom.
By: David Sims
Published on: 2007-05-02