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Monday, August 22, 2011

Review: Source Code (2011)

* * *

Director: Duncan Jones
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga, Michelle Monaghan

With just two feature films to his credit, director Duncan Jones is easily one of the most exciting young talents in the science fiction genre. He's a filmmaker who favours story and character over explosions (though, being about an exploding train, Source Code does have its share of explosions) and manages to make slick, good looking films without sacrificing the story's soul. Admittedly, I enjoyed his debut, Moon, a lot more than his follow-up, Source Code, but there's no doubt in my mind that as Jones continues to develop as an artist and expand his career, he'll continue to make smart, interesting movies - something which I think we can all agree we need a lot more of.

The premise of Source Code involves army helicopter pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), who wakes up on a commuter train which soon blows up, sending him back to "reality," in which he learns that he's participating in an experimental project called "Source Code." Within the project Colter is sent to an alternate timeline and into the body of a man named Sean, who was on the train that exploded, so that he can discover who planted the bomb before a second bomb can be set off in the real timeline. Two of the people running Source Code, Captain Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) and Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), the scientist who invented the device that sends Colter back, explain to him that he can't save the people on the train - the train really has exploded in real time and he's merely being sent back to an "afterimage" that will allow him to experience the last eight minutes on the train before it explodes. All he can hope to accomplish is the use of those eight minutes to prevent the second attack in real time.

Colter is sent back to the alternate reality over and over again as Goodwin and Rutledge pressure him to uncover more about what has happened and why. Eventually, he figures out the identity of the bomber. He also, however, discovers that in the real world he's officially dead, what remains of his body kept on life support so that what remains of his brain can be used for Source Code. Angered by his discovery, Colter demands to be taken off life support once he's completed the mission, something which Rutledge agrees to but has no intention of following through on. He also refuses to allow Colter to return to the alternate timeline once more in order, for his own peace of mind, to save the people on the train but Goodwin is a little more compassionate, allowing for a slight end-of-movie twist.

For the most part, Source Code is a strong film. Like Moon it mixes a somewhat dark humor into its story - Colter gets understandably frustrated fairly quickly and for a while it looks like each session on the train is going to involve him punching or otherwise assaulting people just because it's quicker that way - and involves a protagonist pushed to the limits of his sanity and learning that the truth about his existence has been hidden from him. Gyllenhaal does well with the character and conveys a solid sense of Colter's personality, which is no easy feat when you consider that the character is in an almost constant state of flux. Wright and Farmiga also fare well as the villain and saviour, respectively, but Michelle Monaghan is a bit wasted in her role as the love interest.

The premise of the film is complex and interesting but, while the screenplay by Ben Riply is intellectually ambitious, the execution isn't always equal to the project's ideas. With a story like this you have to enter it willing to suspend disbelief to a certain point just to accept the premise, but sometimes that's asking a lot. For example, the Source Code project's potential as a means to prevent terrorist attacks seems increasingly specious the more you think about it. One of the things that defines most, if not all, terrorist attacks is the element of surprise, so the idea that the person who blew up the train would send a warning that he had another attacked planned for later in the day feels a bit convenient as far as the plot goes, as does the fact that the attacker was working alone to accomplish two coordinated attacks.

The happy ending also raises a few questions, such as how can Colter exist simultaneously in one timeline in both Sean's body and his own, and what happens to the real Sean once his life is spared in the alternate timeline now that Colter has taken over his body? Most high concept stories leave lingering questions, of course, but I think that the film would have been better served by a more sombre ending that allowed the dead to remain dead. Still, despite a few minor issues, Source Code is a solidly entertaining film worth catching up with on DVD. And if you haven't seen Moon yet, now is a good time for a double feature.


Candice Frederick said...

I didn't like Moon, and i didn't love Source Code, which was just a little bit better, either. the premise is just not compelling to me. it wasn't gripping at all. very regular

Norma Desmond said...

Yeah, I can see how the premise could be less than engaging. I mean, for about 90% of the film anything that happens on the train basically doesn't matter because the explosion has already happened and we're just seing the reset over and over again, so it's difficult to invest in the characters.

BRENT said...

I really liked Moon but Source Code left me cold. Nothing at all engaged me and it was a relief that it finished!
Problem to was earlier in the day I had watched Charade in a one off big screen screening. Going from Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, and then to Jake Gyllenhaal was never going to work!

filmgeek said...

I quite liked Source Code until the very end. I had major issues with the real Sean, the fact that whatshername fell for a different guy and he was technically lying to her, etc. I would have preferred it if the film ended on the freeze frame after he was sent back for the last time and viewers were left to make up their own minds about what happened at the end

Wendymoon said...

Just watched Source Code the other night. I had a problem with the parallel world thing, maybe because I'm more used to time travel stories. And I did feel bad for poor Sean getting taken over. The "happy" ending just didn't sit right with me and I half wanted even more shocking conspiracies to be played out. (The setup seemed more sinister than it ended up being.) Entertaining, though.

Shaun said...

Jake played his role well, but there are too many holes in the plot to make this a great movie. They could have left the last 5 minutes out of the movie, and either unplugged Colter, or left him running to torment us again with another Source Code. Maybe if they would have left some clues that more was going on, like when he made a call to Goodwin actually have her remember the call. Not get an email from him after the fact. This was not worth seeing in theaters for sure, but as you said, it is a good rental. The Blur-ray copy has an amazing picture on it, if you are still with Netflix it might be worth paying the extra for the Blu-ray. Mine did not cost anymore with on the Blockbuster movie pass, and at least if gave me something to insert into the queue and get a break from romantic comedies. Now I know why the wife always wants me to work overtime at DISH.