Efficiently lean sci-fi thriller provides high times indeed.
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To say foreign relations between the United States and Russia aren’t great would be an understatement and it’s been that way for decades. This relationship is explored fascinatingly in the new sci-fi thriller “I.S.S.” (in theaters Friday, Jan. 19).
American astronauts Dr. Kira Foster (Ariana DeBose, an Academy Award-winner for Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” a few years back) and Christian Campbell (John Gallagher Jr.) join their colleague Gordon Barrett (Chris Messina, sporting a sweet stache) and Russian counterparts Weronika “Nika” Vetrov (Masha Mashkova) and brothers Nicholai (Costa Ronin) and Alexey Pulov (Pilou Asbæk) aboard the International Space Station.
Interactions between the Americans and Russians are friendly enough at first – with Gordon and Nika going the all the way in their international “relations.” This, despite the fact there are minor squabbles between Kira and Alexey over space for their science projects and a heated debate between Gordon and Nicholai concerning the merits of the Scorpions’ “Wind of Change.” (I’m with the Russki on this one – the tune’s a banger! So much so I’m listening to it on loop while writing this review.)
Things get decidedly more divisive when war breaks out on Earth between America and Russia and our astronauts are left looking down at bombs exploding below. Superiors on either side give their subordinates orders to take the I.S.S. by any means necessary.
“I.S.S.” is directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, who helmed the BAFTA-nominated documentary “Blackfish” and received positive notices for narrative features “Megan Leavey” and “Our Friend” (my friend and colleague Christopher Lloyd’s review here). This is the first film I’ve seen of hers and I must say I was impressed.
“I.S.S.” is an efficiently lean thriller clocking in at a mere 95 minutes. As scripted by newbie scribe Nick Shafir action equals character. The claustrophobic locale and minimal cast only aid in upping the tension. Cowperthwaite is ably assisted through the slick cinematography of Nick Remy Matthews (“Hotel Mumbai”) and effective editing of Richard Mettler (“The Cursed”) and Colin Patton (a frequent collaborator of director David Gordon Green who previously teamed with Cowperthwaite on “Our Friend”). Props also to the effects technicians at Trend VFX, Crafty Apes BR, Golden Sky Birds, Onirikal Studio and Dazzle – the flick’s budget was a meager $20 million and through their dazzling artistry it easily looks like two or three times as much.
The cast is uniformly solid. I was familiar with all of the performers save for Mashkova, who also impresses. I was tickled to see Gallagher and Messina reunited after doing time together on Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series “The Newsroom.” Through Shafir’s writing and the actors’ performances characters are often not who they seem, which makes for an exhilarating watch rife with twists and turns.
“I.S.S.” is “Gravity” by the way of “12 Angry Men” (“6 Angry Astronauts” perhaps?) and more than that it’s a warning to embrace collaboration and solidarity over strife and suspiciousness. I was also left with the impression that I should never bring a screwdriver to a space drill fight, blood droplets look dope in zero-g and I should dig deeper into the Scorpions’ back catalogue … high times indeed.