Coming from a tradition of serious science fiction, fathered by 2001, and owing a lot to Brian De Palma's masterpiece Mission to Mars, Sunshine manages to create a universe of its own, deploying elements of different genres to make up a suspenseful and visionary film.
The director is Danny Boyle, one of few contemporary filmmakers that truly deserve to be dubbed an auteur. Preoccupied with thematic debth and breaking new ground, Boyle is a filmmaker from whom one can expect ambitious projects. In Sunshine, he'a able to create a seductively arcane atmosphere that sucks you in and doesn't offer you a way out until the almost faultless script submerges into a bit too familiar horror territory towards the end. Note, however, that with faultless, I am not talking about the techincal aspects of the science part in science fiction. Like with Mission to Mars, what is impressive with Sunshine is the way it justifies its premise by evading a claim for watertight scientific logic by working out a watertight narrative logic. Another clever move by Boyle is to jump into the mission in medias res, presenting the backdrop to his premise as the film progresses. This, together with Garland's fine characterizations and immaculate attention to detail, gives the film a realistic foundation from which to build its more fantastical continuum.
Boyle's number one achievement with Sunshine ultimately isn't the macro level thematics, but rather his visual feats. Few are able to convey their narrative like Boyle can through his compositions and camera antics, and in here there are a few remarkable segments in that respect. Many of these are projected through Cillian Murphy who fortifies his position as one of the most exciting prospects around. He acts more with his face than most performers, at times more through postures than expressions, and there's a constant duality to his appearance that comes off as suitedly alluring - particularly in a film like this.
It would be accusative to say that Sunshine steals from Mission to Mars, but there are a number of decisive scenes that owe a lot of their effect to the De Palma film (notably the Murphy/Sanada mission to fix the panels). Still, as long as it works as well as it does here, there's no need to complain. That is, until Garland's script runs out of inventiveness towards the end. The character of Pinbacker owes more to a banal slasher genre than to what Boyle wants to accomplish here, and although it isn't directly destructive to the ending, it makes the film's final third less brilliant than the rest of the film had promised.