As film fans, there’s always a handful of films that we allow to pass us by. This isn’t usually a comment on their quality or our willingness to enjoy them – sometimes, we’re just a little late to the party.
Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland – a pairing that previous brought us 28 Days Later – 2007 sci-fi thriller Sunshine boasts an outstanding cast and an interesting premise. Despite this, and despite it being regularly listed as one of the best sci-fi films of recent years, Sunshine had continued to elude me.
With Cillian Murphy starring alongside Rose Byrne, Hiroyuki Sanada, Chris Evans, Michelle Yeoh, Cliff Curtis, Mark Strong, and Benedict Wong, Sunshine boasts a brilliant ensemble cast of stars. Concerning a group of astronauts on a near-future mission to reignite the dying Sun by delivering a massive nuclear payload into the star, Sunshine is immediately at risk of being either CGI-heavy or of becoming mired in pseudo-scientific jargon in order to explain its plot.
Despite the inherent risk in its scientific premise, Sunshine works brilliantly. Thanks largely to Garland’s writing, it’s a consistent film that feels intelligent without the apparent need to overly explain itself. Visually, it also hits the mark – there’s CGI, of course, but Sunshine never feels too reliant on it. Instead, where Sunshine really comes to life is in the performances of its actors and the genuine tension that builds as the mission begins to go awry.
While its premise is genuinely interesting and makes for more than a few moments of nail-biting tension, Sunshine is a character-driven film through and through. Like so many other sci-fi thrillers, space itself is a secondary antagonist, but there’s no sense of horror. Even in Sunshine‘s most unsettling moments, its tension outweighs any potential scares it has to offer, resulting in a film that knows exactly what it is. There’s a level of conviction in Boyle’s execution that makes Sunshine a thoroughly engaging film, and even when its scientific inaccuracy is on full display, it feels no less credible for it – mostly due to mesmerizing performances from the film’s cast.
Sunshine is a genuinely thrilling film with an intriguing sci-fi hook. It’s not overly cerebral, but it’s intelligent enough to remain interesting throughout while still remaining accessible to a variety of audiences. In this, Sunshine is a worthy spiritual successor to films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien, and its brought to life by solid writing and direction, and excellent performances from an outstanding cast.
Summary: Sunshine manages to be thrilling and tense without ever feeling too heavy – it’s an intelligent film that doesn’t weigh itself down with too much science. It finds the balance between science and fiction, and explores the unnerving dark space between the two.
Highlights: A scene which sees the crew exploring the derelict ship that failed at the same mission was deeply unsettling and thoroughly outstanding.