Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Sunshine" Film Review

I've wanted to write a review of Danny Boyle's "Sunshine" for 2 years now. I always mean to go on Imdb and do it, but I never find the time or energy. The director of "28 Days Later" and the Oscar-winning, "Slumdog Millionaire", made this sci-fi thriller in 2007 and it has stuck with me since then. It's the atmosphere of the film and the wonderful acting that gets me the most. If you're looking for a great looking sci-fi thriller with a terrific cast(Rose Byrne, Cillian Murphy, Cliff Curtis, Chris Evans, Hiroyuki Sanada) this is one to rent. I saw it in a theater where they had juiced the bass and overall mix to 11, and sitting near the front of the theater I was completely blown away. The film is nonstop tension, with wonderful epic and at the same time claustrophobic cinematography and a great score by John Murphy(28 Days Later, Miami Vice) that really come together to deliver a teeth clenching nerve rattling experience, that never overtakes the intelligent story that's being told, which blows things right over the top into Science Fiction classics territory, into shared rarefied space with "Blade Runner".

While the film is strong in every category, the casting is perfect and really stands out as the actors have great natural chemistry with one another not to mention a screenplay that deals with incredibly important issues of morality, mortality, religion and science that lets all of the actors have wonderful little moments in the action where their decisions become like little karmic bombs. Cillian Murphy, is the main character in this ensemble, and is the silent observer. With very few lines in the film, he is a strong leading character playing a scientist who designed a bomb to reignite the Sun(Yes, I know the plot seems ridiculous, but the film is built like an emotionally complex roller coaster ride...)Murphy's Robert Capa is infused with the actor's trademark dry-humored inflections and wit, and he really seems like he is preoccupied inside his own head with all of the moral conundrums and calculations his character is forced to contemplate(and wishing he didn't have to). Hiroyuki Sanada, as Captain Kaneda, is perhaps the strongest of all, who must always remains calm under pressure, he is sincere and intelligent and as the least known actor in the cast, he really leads the crew for the first 45 minutes of the film, and you feel the authenticity in his gaze and he tries to solve the many problems that befall the crew, you feel a real weight with every word he speaks and I'll be looking out for more performances by this Japanese heavy. Underrated Cliff Curtis is also amazing as Dr.Searle, the Sun-obsessed Psychologist on board who as Evan's character puts it is obviously a lot less sane than him. His growing detachment from humanity and his wonderment at the sheer incredibility of the sun is how we sense, as an audience, that this task is probably not going to end well for any of them. They are facing a conflict larger then humanity, against God and Fate.
Rose Byrne and Chris Evans round out the main members of the ensemble. Byrne delivers a great subtle performance tinged with teary-eyed emotion and real humanity that anchors the crew in the most extreme circumstances and Chris Evans plays a tough, balance minded technician who is the most logical if the least ethical of the bunch, Evans gives his best performance yet and shows there is more to him than just "The Human Torch". So the cast is perfect, and I felt like I really needed to emphasize that. Without the cast and the caliber of acting here, this could've been an episode of "Star Trek". But it is elevated to a tense moral play, that speaks to the questions of the Spirit we ask ourselves in darker moments. Do we have control, or is humanity's own existence it's own bane? Is it our nature to try and fix things or to break them?
The art design is very much in line with the science fiction classics like "Blade Runner", "Alien" and "2001", very utilitarian in the interior of the ship's design and the cumbersome space suits. The film in a few ways feels like a throwback to those classics, although it is very progressive in other areas like visual effects, which are definitely benchmark CGI. The visual effects in this film are extremely realistic and used as sparingly as you could imagine a film about a giant solar spaceship going to the sun could be. They are extremely well integrated with the cinematography, the lighting marrying the extreme harsh blacks and oranges and whites of space with the cool blue and green interiors of the space ship. The ship exteriors look amazing, especially when the sun is reflecting off it. The sun is so well rendered it feels and looks hot and beautiful, and you understand Searle's characters deepening spiritual obsession with it, which is absolutely necessary to buy as both Searle and the would-be villain of the film who arrives late to the film(played by greatly underrated but up-and-coming actor Mark Strong)as men who both fall for the Sun as their own personal lord and savior.
The one subtle weakness of the film is in it's third act. The tone of the "Sunshine" shift wildly into a horror tonality and it almost loses it's soul. I didn't mind the tonal shift as much(the first real appearance of the villain is a thing of wonder as Capa discovers him baking in the Sun's golden rays in their planetary viewing room), but I can see how it could have thrown other people off, and in second and third and 20th viewing of the film, I don't mind it at all, but I see it coming...
I don't want to discuss too much of the plot here, but needless to say, the characters are front and center and are fully dimensional. We empathize with each one of them regardless of how ridiculous the situation is. For me, the film was inspirational, a moment in the film inspired my own filming of my short sci-fi "Freelancer". If you're noticing a pattern with all of my reviews so far, yes, they are all 5 star reviews. I watch all movies(save for comedy for the most part), good or bad. I saw "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" on the day it came out. I watched the terrible "Mirrors" and "P2"...I just don't really like writing about something unless I truly loved it. I will probably write reviews for less than 5 stars, who knows when...That being said, I absolutely love some trashed on and trashy cinema. Maybe sometime soon I'll write a review on "Anaconda" or "Tremors"...However, this shouldn't diminish the fact that "Sunshine" is not a guilty pleasure like "Anaconda"..."Sunshine" is a true masterwork of Science Fiction and stands evenly along side all of Danny Boyle's other films as he continues to experiment in seemingly ever genre imaginable.
5 Solar Flares out of 5

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