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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Source Code (Release Date: 4-1-2011)

        It might not have been the most high-profile directorial debut of the last few years, but Duncan Jones sure saw an awful lot of love for his freshman feature Moon. While the movie hardly made a blip on the national scene, it has since acquired a dedicated cult following, many blown away by Sam Rockwell's solo performance, and the film's palpable tone. So while Jones' first feature didn't cause his name to be tossed around the same way that, say, Neill Blomkamp's was after District 9, it has since garnered just as much respect and admiration, if not more. The feverish anticipation to see what he would do next ended this week when Source Code arrived in theaters, catapulting its director out of the art house, and into the multiplex.

        Source Code is the story of Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), a soldier who is going through a bit of an identity crisis. Trapped in a darkened metal pod with only hazy memories of what has happened to him recently, Stevens is instructed, via computer monitor, and by some vaguely official looking officer by the name of Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), that he is to find a bomb on a train. And suddenly, he's there, sitting next to a complete stranger named Christina (Michelle Monaghan) who addresses him by a different name, and much familiarity. Flustered and confused, Stevens sets out to find the bomb, only to be blown away in a mere eight minutes, subsequently waking up in that same metal pod, repeating the same sequence over and over again.

        If it isn't painfully clear by the wording of my synopsis, it is my opinion that the less one knows or truly understands about Source Code going in, the better. Much of the movie is a guessing game of sorts, as both the audience and Gyllenhaal attempt to make sense of what's happening to them. Fret not: It's not a particularly confusing movie, at least not until its final moments, and its mysteries make it compulsively watchable as opposed to knotted and confounding. This one is a real page-turner of a flick, engaging for just about every moment that it's on screen, quite the accomplishment when you consider that at least half of the movie is a variation on the same scene. Credit for this goes to a lot of different people, so let's just get the list going.

       It's surprising coming from the guy who went to such painstaking lengths to make his viewers truly feel the loneliness and boredom of his protagonist in Moon, but Source Code is nothing if not fleet of foot. Jones's direction is crisp and fast-moving, ever-remaining brisk enough to paper over an occasional plot-hole or two. The story, rendered in screenplay form by Ben Ripley, makes the most of its intriguing conceit, giving just enough clues to the audience at just the right times. The over-familiarity of the train scenes makes for some comic moments, and credit ought to go to Jones for recognizing that fact, and running with it. Then there's Gyllenhaal, who seems to become more effortlessly charismatic with each movie. To be honest, I'm not even sure where to rank him on a scale of modern actors, but in terms of screen heroism that's easy and fun to follow and root for, he's just about unbeatable.

        Good as it may be, Source Code is not without faults: Monaghan doesn't have a whole lot to do besides look perpetually confused by Gyllenhaal's actions, and in the role of the mad scientist, Jeffrey Wright is all kinds of over-the-top. As alluded to earlier, the flick also has a real dud of an ending, throwing away some good will at the last possible second. To be fair to the movie, one has to pick up a pretty good running speed to suffer such a face-plant, and Source Code is a sprinter in every sense of the word. Occasional ruminations on identity and technology come to the surface, but for the most part, this one is pure fluff, but just about the best of its kind. The clear winner of Spring 2011's Philip K. Dick-ish adaptation showdown (The Adjustment Bureau serving as its fallen opponent), Source Code has enough adrenaline, dark comedy, momentum, and mystery to transport its audience far away from their darkened cinema seats, and the last time I checked, that's exactly what popcorn film-making was designed to do.

Grade: B+

1 comment:

  1. Ahhh, I just made the connection! Duncan Jones = Zowie Bowie. It makes the ending that much harder of a pill to swallow. I expected more from Ziggy Stardust's offspring.