Stowaway ★★★½

In a high school English class we read a short story called "The Cold Equations" by Tom Godwin, published in 1954. It's about a stowaway on a spacecraft headed to another planet for research and supply purposes, and the frank logistical conflicts that ensue when this person is discovered inside this precisely calculated machine limited by the finite resources of however advanced mankind's technology happens to be at this time. A simple, chilling hypothetical, and now with no apparent citation it is a movie premiering on Netflix with a dignified cast from the director who already made that other austere survival thriller "Arctic" starring Mads Mikkelsen. In what environment will Joe Penna endanger a tiny cast of great actors next, I wonder. I know it's been too many times before, but I vote ocean. I never get tired of movies showing us what a beautiful nightmare that place is.

"Stowaway" isn't based on "The Cold Equations" from what I can tell, but it is nearly the very same sequence of events from start to finish, just expanded for more character development and scientific detail. Despite carrying a nearly 2-hour runtime, it's a smart, involving procedural about a rational team solving problems inside a believably conceived space-traveling ship. No one goes crazy, things don't explode. It respects the integrity of its own story, and is all the better for it. Of course there is a risky space walk outside the ship as in all space travel films, but unlike something like the recent Clooney pic "The Midnight Sky", this one's stakes and process don't just feel like a tacked-on subplot.

Anna Kendrick, Toni Collette and in a finer class of roles than he usually gets in feature films, Daniel Dae Kim are all modestly exceptional at committing to this grounded tone and making us believe they belong up there. The human element in their interaction gives the movie a lingering ache afterward. It is quite succinct as a story, be warned about that so as not to expect more, but it's a good story nonetheless, and at least quality-wise and for how pro-science it feels, if not in sheer scope or ambition, would've fit right in during the cerebral sci-fi blockbuster boom of the early 2010s that included "Gravity", "Interstellar" and "The Martian".

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