Monday, April 4, 2011

Movie Review: Source Code

Source Code ***
Directed by: Duncan Jones.
Written by: Ben Ripley.
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal (Colter Stevens), Michelle Monaghan (Christina Warren), Vera Farmiga (Colleen Goodwin), Jeffrey Wright (Dr. Rutledge), Michael Arden (Derek Frost), Cas Anvar (Hazmi), Russell Peters (Max Denoff), Brent Skagford (George Troxel).

I think the reason why most movies like Source Code don’t work is because they spend too much time trying to explain the logic behind the impossible science on display in the films. Source Code works because it doesn’t matter that the science in the movie makes no sense at all - because it doesn’t care that it doesn’t make logical sense. Instead, it makes emotional sense to the characters in the movie. As an audience member, I am willing to suspend disbelief if it makes sense to the emotional core of the movie. In Source Code it does.

The movie starts off inside a train, as a confused Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up and finds himself talking to Christina (Michelle Monaghan), who keeps calling him Shawn for some reason. He becomes increasingly confused over the course of his few minutes on the train, until the whole train explodes - and Stevens wakes up yet again. This time, it looks like he is in a down helicopter cockpit - which at least makes more sense since he is a military pilot, stationed in Afghanistan. Soon he starts being questioned by Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), who he sees only on a screen. She wants to know who planted the bomb on the train. We, along with Stevens, gradually piece together what is going on. Stevens is being sent back in time, inside the body of someone named Shawn was on a train that blew up that morning. Another attack is coming, and they need to find out who planted the bomb to prevent the next attack. It turns out that Stevens can be sent back into Shawn’s body for the last 8 minutes of his life - he can go back as many times as they want, although he can’t always remember everything, and no matter what he does while inside Shawn’s body - which is really an elaborate computer program, cannot change reality.

That’s just the setup of the movie, and all I am going to reveal about the plot of the movie, because one of the pleasures of the movie is to watch as it twists and turns towards its conclusion. We continually travel back with Stevens onto that train, and view the same people every time, the only things that changes are what Stevens himself changes.

What I admired about the movie is not only how director Duncan Jones, who made the much better sci-fi film Moon two years ago, keeps the movie going at a breakneck pace and handles the twists well, but also how the movie never loses sight of its characters. In fact, it is the characters who makes the movie as good as it is. The identity of the bomber does not really matter at all. What impresses me is how well the characters are developed, without us every really noticing it at all. When the movie begins, we are drawn in by the story, by the end; we barely care about it at all.

In a movie like this, the performances are important in drawing us in and making us care. Jake Gyllenhaal is basically playing an everyman here - he is our conduit into this world, as he is just as confused as the rest of us at the beginning. As his story becomes clear, we start to feel for this guy. He is not just an action hero - but a fully fleshed out character, and Gyllenhaal does a great job with the role. For her part, Michelle Monaghan makes Christina completely lovable - which is important if we are going to believe that Stevens does what he does - and hard seeing as how she has to play the same scene over and over again. Vera Farmiga starts out in what we first assume is a nothing, throwaway role - the type of roll many great actresses have to take in mainstream films to pay the bills. But gradually, she too reveals a real character beneath her military exterior. And Jeffrey Wright - that great actor who for whatever reason has never gotten the rolls he deserves - is excellent as the kind of Dr. Frankenstein of the whole project.

If Source Code has a flaw, its in the conclusion. I didn’t quite buy it, and feel that a darker ending would have been more appropriate for the movie. Yet, the film is fast pacing, entertaining and involving from beginning to end. Unlike most sci-fi action movies these days, Source Code actually has a brain in its head.

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