Sunshine. Cliff Curtis, Chipo Chung, Cillian Murphy, and Chris Evans star in a film written by Alex Garland and directed by Danny Boyle.

Danny Boyle is an unpredictable director. His breakthrough feature was a hilarious, lively tale about heroin addicts (Trainspotting) and his last two efforts included a family film (Millions) and a zombie movie (28 Days Later). The team behind 28 Days Later (writer Alex Garland and star Cillian Murphy, in addition to Boyle) regroup for Sunshine, a science-fiction film about eight astronauts who must deliver a massive nuclear payload to the center of the sun in order to reignite it. If the premise sounds too far-fetched, then Sunshine is probably not for you. If it sounds intriguing, however, then by all means, proceed.

Boyle has crafted a film that is visionary sci-fi at its finest, an amalgamation of previous genre watersheds like 2001 and Alien with some of the most gorgeous imagery on-screen this summer. The story starts off slowly and deliberately, lingering on the personality quirks of the various crew members. The optimism and single-mindedness of the crew erodes as dilemmas transform from complex to catastrophic. Boyle understands that whatever action occurs onscreen is as important as the off-screen action that is implied. In this way, Sunshine is a marvel of cinematic economy, a film where every snippet of dialogue and blank expression from a character carries as much weight as the breathtakingly spectacular sequences that function as interludes to the main story.

At the center of this spectacular, ambitious picture is Cillian Murphy, who plays the crew’s resident physicist Capa, the only one who can trigger the ship’s payload. In recent years, Murphy has become a commanding presence onscreen, and with Sunshine he ascends into the pantheon of truly mesmerizing modern actors.

Sunshine will probably get lost in the shuffle somewhere between Transformers and the next Bourne film, and that is a shame. For those with the patience and interest to watch a maligned genre elevated to the level of art, Sunshine is a delight, a unique tour de force that stands comfortably with the best examples of the thinking person’s science fiction.

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