Monday, November 24, 2008


Director Danny Boyle is now the darling of the movie-covering press. Slumdog Millionaire is a genuine hit among independent films. I loved that movie, so I thought I'd go back and look at the last film he had directed. That search led me to Sunshine, released in 2007.

You'd think with a title like that, you'd have a wonderfully upbeat, colorfully lit movie, wouldn't you? Well, at times we do have "colorfully lit," if you count gold hues of the sun among them, but you certainly wouldn't call this movie upbeat.

There's no backstory to set us up. We're plunged into the spaceship plummeting toward the sun, and in a way become one of the crew among the eight women and men already onboard. Capa, played by Cillian Murphy, explains what we're up against best in a monologue: "Our sun is dying. Mankind faces extinction. Seven years ago the Icarus project sent a mission to restart the sun but that mission was lost before it reached the star. Sixteen months ago, I, Robert Capa, and a crew of seven left earth frozen in a solar winter. Our payload was a stellar bomb with a mass equivalent to Manhattan Island. Our purpose to create a star within a star. (Long pause....) Eight astronauts strapped to the back of a bomb. My bomb. Welcome to the Icarus Two."

Intense doesn't describe it. It's easier to compare Sunshine to other like-type sci fi films than describe it. It's the first-half of Alien without the payoff. It's Silent Running, showing all the isolation of that film, only without the personality of Bruce Dern. Or Huey, Dewey and Louie. It certainly evokes 2001, but without the epic grandness of that film, and especially the weirdness of the last half an hour of that classic.

The cast is first-rate. Besides Murphy, who doesn't fall back on the schizoid personalities of his usual film roles, there is also Chris Evans (Fantastic Four), who establishes a very deliberate and consistent character, and Michelle Yeoh, the delightful Hong Kong actress who is almost impossible to find these days.

The script is mostly at fault here. While the writing gives us a taut and gripping drama, it also gives too many boring moments in looking too tightly at high-strung crew members, too many moments that don't lead anywhere, to maintain interest. And the direction is also to blame: many scenes are distractedly filmed with lens tricks so that we can't really tell what's going on. Perhaps the latter is due to the fact that Boyle doesn't want to show us the gruesome, but I think that's an excuse. The whole last half an hour is filmed this way, and is hard to watch, let alone figure out what's going on.

At the end, however, the film is a downer. Plain and simple. Wait a couple of years when Danny Boyle finds a really good script to film and discovers his talent.

Thumb's down.

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