April 4, 2011

Movie Review: Source Code

In 2009 I saw this movie called Moon and was blown away. The movie told an involving story of character and mystery in an isolating science fiction setting. It made my top five of the year. That movie was written and directed by a newcomer to the big screen scene, Duncan Jones. The movie was so good that I waited with a good deal of anticipation for his second film and hoping he did not hit a sophomore slump. Due to the success of Moon, Jones was afforded a larger budget and given a larger release for this second film. To say there is more riding on its success would be an understatement, but then I was not nearly as interested in its success as much as its quality. Although, I must admit a little to wanting it to succeed, if only to allow Duncan Jones to keep giving us films.

For his sophomore film, Jones stepped away from the keyboard to work from a screenplay by Ben Ripley. This had to be seen as questionable early on as Ripley's prior work includes Species III and IV. To say those are not very good films could be seen as an understatement. With that said, based on the quality of Moon, I found it easy to give Jones the benefit of the doubt and believe he has a much better eye for talent than I (this could be said about anyone in relation to me). The screenplay turned out to be Source Code and while I am not quite sure it is better than Moon, it is way up there on the quality scale.

As the movie begins we meet Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) on a Chicago bound train. He is sitting across from a young woman named Christina (Michelle Monaghan). The problem is that Colter is in the body of someone named Sean Fentriss and he is supposed to be flying helicopters in Afghanistan. As if the "huh?" factor couldn't get any bigger, the train explodes and Colter finds himself in a chamber that looks like it is made of scrap metal and was borrowed from the set of 12 Monkeys.

In this chamber his communication is limited to a viewscreen. On the other end is Captain Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) who is his handler in this program that he knows nothing about. There is also Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), the designer of the program. This program, this Source Code is described as being able to send a man back into the last eight-minutes of a person's life. In this case, Colter is charged with finding the bomber of the train in an effort to prevent future bombings that have been threatened.

Colter is given precious little information about the program, his mission, and pretty much any detail surrounding his presence there wand what is really going on. Over an over again, Colter is sent into the Source Code to find the bomber. Each time little details are different and Colter sees this as an opportunity to save these people, despite these events happening in the past, he is convinced that things can be changed.

It is difficult to go much further without getting into spoiler territory, or dangerously close to it. This is a movie that really rewards lack of knowledge concerning its story. This is what makes the trailers so good. It is rare in this day and age to find a trailer that really messes with you, but I can honestly say the Source Code trailer really played with my mind. We are given all sorts of little sequences that seem to go together, but if you try to put the puzzle together you discover that you really have no idea what the finished piece will look like. Nothing in the trailer fits together. You could think that means it is a sloppy movie, or you can have faith that they don't want you to figure it out early.

This is a lot more than a clever science fiction film. It seeks to bring a sense of hope to the world, even while asking more questions and introducing questionable morality. The Source Code works as intended, but even more not as intended. Sure, its replaying of a sequence multiple times brings to mind Vantage Point and Dennis Quaid's "Stop! Rewind that." exclamation, but it goes beyond that. Little differences each time that could potentially display the faultiness of memory or perhaps something else. Source Code does not explain a lot, nor should it, it retains a mystery about Colter's reality, the origins of the Source Code, and our desire to do good.

On another note, the acting is all quite good. Jake Gyllenhaal does a fine job as Colter, giving him a genuine humanity and giving him an inquisitiveness that only helps service the story and its many angles. Michelle Monaghan delivers a compelling performance, and I genuinely mean that. Sure, she doesn't have a whole lot to do, but there is this easiness about her that works perfectly well and she has great chemistry with Gyllenhaal. Vera Farmiga is also quite good as the conflicted handler, clearly wanting to tell him more but holding back due to her position. Rounding out the primary cast is Jeffrey Wright as the creator of the Source Code. He has a great abruptness that shows him as being a "better than you" type with his knowledge of how the code works, a pomposity that does not seem to know bounds, which is great to reflect on when you think of the ending.

Duncan Jones has done it again. He brings great style and an understanding of movie making that belies his young career. First with Moon and now with Source Code, Jones shows that he is someone to keep an eye on. Not to be forgotten, Ben Ripley has crafted a nicely contained mind bender that has ideas that burst out from an initially simple idea.

Highly Recommended.

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