The Sandra Bullock Files is a series that looks at the films of Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock, all the way from her debut in 1987, to her two major 2018 releases, Ocean’s Eight and Bird Box.
Since following Sandra Bullock’s long career since I saw Speed at the age of nine, there were always a few things I hoped she would get to do in her upcoming film projects. For instance, I wanted her to work with truly great directors, which she almost rarely got to do. It wasn’t until her terrific performance in Crash that she finally received some much overdue critical notices for her dramatic acting, and it wasn’t until winning an Oscar for The Blind Side that some great directing talent finally stepped up, namely Stephen Daldry and Alfonso Cuaron. For nearly twenty years I waited and waited for Sandra to participate in a brilliant, groundbreaking movie, and I finally got it in 2013 with Gravity, still one of my favorite films of late.
Her output since Gravity has been more misses than hits, although I’ve enjoyed a lot of what both Our Brand is Crisis and Ocean’s Eight have to offer. Our Brand is Crisis gave Sandra one of her best and more daring roles ever, and Ocean’s Eight is a blast from beginning to end, an entertaining flick that’s no masterpiece but is still certainly time well spent. Apart from seeing her work with great directors and making at least one superb, Oscar-winning film, there was one more thing I hoped to see Sandra do one day. She’d flirted with the genre in subpar films like Murder by Numbers and Premonition, and one of her first break-out roles was in the genre film The Vanishing, starring Kiefer Sutherland and Jeff Bridges. But really, Sandra had never made a great thriller, and she’d never come close to my all-time favorite movie genre — the horror film. That all changed this year, of course, with her newest movie, Bird Box, which premiered December 21st not in your local movie theater, but on Netflix.
Based on the 2014 novel of the same title by Josh Malerman, Bird Box tells of a woman named Malorie who suddenly finds herself in a new terrifying world where opening your eyes outside kills you, and fast. When people everywhere look outside, they see their deepest, darkest fears manifested in something before them, and what usually follows is suicide. A few months pregnant, and scared beyond imagining, she finds shelter in a man’s home, one with windows completely covered, one that seems to be safe for anyone who dwells there. But then bad things happen, most of them outside of her control, and years later she finds herself taking two children on a treacherous journey on a rowboat down a river, hopefully to somewhere where she and the two young ones will finally have a chance to survive.
Bird Box should be a total delight to Sandra Bullock fans; it sure was to me. How cool of her at this point in her career to take on a scary, intense genre film, one that she is front and center in from the first scene to the last. This is in no way a typical Sandra performance. She’s mean, she’s tough, she wields a shotgun, and a whole load of other weapons. She screams at two little children in one scene after the next, and she always tells the adults in the room what she thinks of them when they’re making mistakes. This is one of her boldest performances, one that she commits to from the beginning to the end, and it offers, easily, some of the best acting of her career. She could have phoned it for another five years, sleepwalked through a role the way she sort of does in Ocean’s Eight, a fun movie that doesn’t really give her much to do. In Bird Box, she inhabits a flawed, complicated character, not only a woman stuck in a dystopian world where you can’t look outside, but also a woman who never wanted to be a mother and has suddenly found herself pregnant and uncertain, and more alone than ever before. The two timelines in the movie offer completely different sides to her character, and it’s a joy to watch Malorie evolve the way she does.
Now, unlike her recent Our Brand is Crisis, which has a great Sandra performance in an otherwise so-so movie, Bird Box works, and works beautifully. Oscar-winning director Suzanne Bier, who made the brilliant movie Brothers from 2005 (my favorite film I ever saw at the Sundance Film Festival), made the right choice in not aiming necessarily for huge scares and big gruesome set pieces. She keeps this story instead focused entirely on Malorie, showing us the terror of this new world through her eyes, and it makes the journey all the more compelling. Bier has put together an impressive cast and crew, starting with a group of supporting actors that make this movie truly pop off the screen. One of our finest actress Sarah Paulson, who just co-starred in Ocean’s Eight with Sandra earlier this year, plays her sister at the film’s beginning and offers a masterclass in acting in just a few short minutes. Paulson’s final scene outside of the car is probably the film’s most horrifying moment. Other great actors in the film include Trevante Rhodes, Jacki Weaver, Danielle Macdonald, and John Malkovich, who all bring something special to the movie. Vivien Lyra Blair, who plays Girl, and Julien Edwards, who plays Boy, are equally strong as the two children, always believable in their many tension-filled scenes on the river.
The film also looks and sounds amazing. From that incredible opening shot of the camera descending toward the water, I was taken by Bird Box’s gorgeous cinematography by Salvatore Totino. I loved all the little details we get, like shots from inside the blindfolds when the characters are running outside, and the massive sweep of that river, especially when Malorie and the kids reach the rapids. Some might think that because this film premiered on Netflix that the production might have tried to cut corners, but such is not the case with this film; it looks spectacular. The sound work is superb as well, and I particularly loved the eerie score provided by two of my favorites, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who scored David Fincher’s last three features.
As great of a team that was assembled for this movie is, though, none of it would have mattered much without Sandra’s incredible performance. She’s been my favorite actress for going on twenty-five years now, I wrote a book about her films, I got to meet her twice (once at The Lake House premiere in Los Angeles, and once at a tribute gala in Santa Barbara). For so many years I wanted her to be in better movies, wanted her to take risks as a performer. Since she won her Academy Award, she has been impressing me more and more in movie after movie, and while Ocean’s Eight left a little to be desired, she has returned in full force in Bird Box. This is her movie, this her story, and she was the perfect actress to bring the character of Malorie to life.
Sandra really has been on one hell of a ride for the past thirty-one years — and she’s enjoyed one hell of a career. When in the early 2000s it looked like she would languish in romantic comedy hell forever, she finally broke through in films like Crash, Infamous, and The Blind Side to become an actress who is finally being taken seriously. While Speed remained her best movie for nearly two decades, that terrific action film was finally eclipsed by Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece, Gravity. When many doubted she would ever be considered for a major award nomination, she was nominated and won the Oscar for The Blind Side, and then was nominated again just four years later for Gravity. And with her newest film Bird Box, now available on Netflix, she shows us once again why she’s one of the very best in the business. Sandra Bullock is a worldwide treasure, and as she continues on, starring in hopefully many more films to come, expect me to be there rooting her on every step of the way.
Best Scene: The car going out of control, Malorie and her sister inside.
Best Line: “Every single decision I have made has been for them.”
Sandra’s first horror film.
Sandra’s first film to premiere on Netflix.
Sandra previously co-starred with Sarah Paulson earlier this year in Ocean’s Eight.
Sandra has said in interviews that she was blindfolded on the set of this movie about fifty percent of the time.
Thirty-one years since her 1987 film debut Hangman, Sandra has now starred in more than fifty projects to date.