Monday, April 4, 2011

Movie Review: Source Code

Keeping Up With The Joneses 

"Jones' second feature is a cerebral, mind-bending spectacle that loses some legitimacy at the end, but still carries enough weighty self-awareness to tackle important questions, such as the morality of the military's use of its natural resources."

      From henceforth, Duncan Jones, the inventive directing force behind Moon, shall be known as Slam-Duncan Jones. His latest film Source Code solidifies the director's status, as a precocious force in the eminent world of bright, young filmmakers. Though his concept, termed "time reassignment," may be a tad bit derivative in theory (a la Groundhog Day), it's shrewdly distinctive in execution, bolstered by the cogency of some remarkably touching performances. 
      While Jones' minimalist debut Moon, introduced the film world to a genuine and judicious science-fiction mind, Source Code thunderously broadcast the message, "he's here to stay." Undoubtedly, a cinematic force to be reckoned with, Duncan's big-budgeted action thriller tactfully accommodates the action junkie's adrenaline quotient while simultaneously addressing questions of identity and existence, proving to Hollywood, the Nolan-esque notion—big studio productions can be as entertaining as they are smart. 

      Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Capt. Colter Stevens, an Army helicopter pilot who wakes up one day, only to be met by, what seems to befit a grimly depressing fate. He finds himself aboard a Chicago commuter train destined for a tragic explosion; in get this twist, someone else's body. Explicitly strange, but implicitly substantial, this sudden realization becomes Stevens primary pivot point, from which the narrative boldly expounds. 
      Colter learns he's part of an experiment called Source Code, which enables him to inhabit another man's identity during the last eight minutes of the man's life. With a bomb on the train rather than a bus a la Speed, his job is to find the bomber, and more importantly, prevent further attacks. Much in the same vein of Groundhog Day, Colter repeatedly relives these eight minutes, unearthing clues to achieve the mission. Credit Duncan Jones for his immense talent at building tension. Though the film operates on a time loop, we never once experience the same thrill twice. Each revivification offers a refreshingly new angle. Consequently, the action never reaches a point of stale and disorderly humdrum.
      The film's set encompasses three primary locations: the train where the majority of the mission unfolds, the secret lab where the "source code" experiment is being conducted, and the pod where Captain Stevens resurfaces between assignments. Each disparate location furnishes its own peculiar modulation. The train sequences evoke a certain classical feel evidenced through Duncan's color calibration, and film grade contrast. The end result is a more vintage look. The laboratory evinces a contemporary feel that's neither overt sci-fi or labyrinthine. And finally, the pod set piece where Stevens communicates via video screen with Goodwin provokes a more sinister environment that is equally dark and claustrophobic. In an effort to combat the blatantly static design of the pod's surroundings, Jones' expands the intricate breadth of the tight space, as Stevens enhances his understanding of the mission. Unequivocally, such a visual tactic is reminiscent of Fincher, who is notorious for low light shooting.  

      Source Code is a riveting contemporary thriller that gains much of its traction from the earnest performances of its three stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, and Vera Farmiga. The fact that Jones was able to summon an unforgettable performance out of the criminally underrated Sam Rockwell in Moon while also influencing a strong display from the dispassionate, fickle and unpredictable Gyllenhaal, is no coincidence. 
      Undeniably, Gyllenhaal rescued his A-List status, as a formidable member of the top echelon of Hollywood's leading men. Jake's character may don an "everyman suit," but his multi-dimensional character engenders a fascinating palette of emotions. In the John McClane sense, he is a believable hero imbued with an honest heart, and capable of momentous achievement. Gyllenhaal gives Colter a bruised sense of duty. In a sympathetic turn, he enlists a subtlety to his performance, hitting the dark and light notes—whether Stevens is questioning reality or riding that life-and-death train to its climax. His delightful counterpart, Michelle Monaghan, awakens her character's static disposition leading to a marvelous revelation. She is not merely an attractive woman with an infectious smile. She is a buoyant personality replete with subtleties and complexities that make her on-screen time mesmerizing. Her performance is startling given her character's redundant surroundings. 
      Duncan Jones' ensures his film is not another formulaic, banal action thriller. He instructs his actors to speak their lines rather than shout them. Stevens and Christina's chatter leads to a blossoming flirtation, similar to the dynamics of Damon and Blunt in The Adjustment Bureau. The final piece to the casting triumvirate is Vera Farmiga, who plays Colleen Goodwin with a crisp, but impersonal temperament. She is an officer who takes orders from Dr. Rutledge (played by a competent Jeffrey Wright). She is able to confidently display her character's moral make-up without substantial exposition. It is a verifiable credit to her calculable and subtle interpretation. 

      Source Code is a considerably more polished, costlier counterpart of Moon, yet both films rely upon detached, physically-constrained men who are not what they seem. Jones creates a brimming sense of intimacy that draws the viewer to the characters, ensuring that the tension comes from genuine feelings, and not purely from any crafty plot devices. This intimacy makes the movie feel more native, as opposed to mechanical, which is the biggest enrichment of its appeal. It's a genuine intimacy that gently abides with the intentional and intricate workings of Jones' prudent direction.
      A speeding commuter train, a recurrence that artfully foreshadows Source Code's cleverly repetitive compulsion, parallels the film's narrative design—represented by the "beleaguered castle" reference. Steven must find the bomber, but unlike other generic action archetypes, he doesn't merely jump along action beats. Similar to the existential crisis of David Norris in The Adjustment Bureau, Stevens also confronts big questions—are we alone in this world and do we possess free-will? Antithetical to George Nolfi's film, Source Code depends on something other than fate, which more closely resides with Harold Ramis' film, Groundhog Day—the idea of reaching a point of enlightenment after repeating the same day until one gets it right.
      In Source Code, the thinking man is the winning man (take note Charlie Sheen), which makes it a nice respite from standard action fare—abounding badass guys with guns, elaborate explosions, and the imminently-ticking death clock, though Source Code boasts some of these elements. The film's denouement was a bit sloppy and illogical, ultimately striving for that happy Hollywood ending, as opposed to that logical, fits-within-the-story climax. Despite this last minute flaw, Source Code is still a very commendable science fiction film with a Jacob Barnett brain. More specifically (if you're not too familiar with the young prodigy), Jones' second feature is a cerebral, mind-bending spectacle that loses some legitimacy at the end, but still carries enough weighty self-awareness to tackle important questions, such as the morality of the military's use of its natural resources.

8 out of 10

*Source Code Trailer


  1. I wanted to see the film from the moment I saw the first trailer. I'm watching it most definitely!

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  3. I hate finding spelling errors after hitting send. I love thinking action flicks and have wanted to see this since I first saw the trailer. Based on your enthusiastic and thought-provoking review, I will not be disappointed.

  4. Ah, Matty.. you should become a professional film critic. I'm dead serious! :) You're writing skills amaze me every time! Can't wait to see "Source Code"! Sadly, I have to wait until it gets released here, which is next week. Another fantastic review!

  5. After seeing Moon at the cinema, I shall definitley be going to see Source Code!

    Ellie Garratt

  6. Haven't seen this one yet but I surely will watch it for Slam-Duncan Jones and mind-bending storyline :)

  7. @ Dezmond

    Awesome! You will definitely enjoy it!

    @ Melissa

    Aha, I feel ya. I've made that mistake many times before. And I'm positive, you will like the film!

  8. @ Nebular

    Thanks so much buddy! Your praise never gets old, lol! Yeah, I enjoy writing and I love films—we shall see, I suppose.

    @ Ellie

    If you liked Moon, you'll definitely enjoy Source Code. A lot of Duncan Jones' classic direction shines. You'll notice the comparisons.

    @ Jaccstev

    Haha, that's what I'm talking about!

  9. it's a smarter than usual movie. I was cynical going in but it delivers. Great review, you've captured why it works very well, the pacing was terrific.

  10. Awesome. I've been wanting to see this. I like that it got positive reviews from a film buff :)

    East for Green Eyes

  11. @ Brent

    Thanks! Likewise. I thought the premise would be too contrived and tarnished by its apparent redundancy. But I was so wrong. I should have realized I'd be wrong given Duncan Jones direction for Moon.

    And yes, the pacing was flawless!

    @ RosieC

    Oh, you're too sweet, thanks! It's definitely worth your money, which is saying a lot considering the rising price of a movie ticket.