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Source Code (Review)

Source Code (Review)

Dangers on a train
May 5, 2011
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Source Code
Genre: Action, Mystery, Sci-Fi Release Date: 05/05/2011 Runtime: 93 minutes Country: USA, France


Director:  Duncan Jones Writer(s): 
Ben Ripley

Cast: Cas Anvar, , Jeffrey Wright, Michael Arden, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga
Source Code (Review), reviewed by Anders Wotzke on 2011-05-05T10:36:33+00:00 rating 4.0 out of5

Not long ago, Duncan “Zowie” Jones’ biggest claim to fame was simply being the son of superstar spaceman Ziggy Stardust, or as he’s known to most mortal Earthlings, David Bowie. But that all changed when he deftly directed the indie sci-fi hit Moon, notably without the aid of any glitter or hairspray — a sure sign that his father had little to do with it.

But while Moon was a promising debut, one of the most daunting decisions a budding filmmaker will ever likely make is answering; “What next?” The film biz isn’t all that forgiving towards directors who experience the sophomore slump, and neither are audiences, so picking the right project is crucial.  The good news, then, is that Jones has picked an absolute winner with Source Code.

Even seasoned directors would’ve been lucky to have had such a cracking screenplay plonked on their desk. Written by newcomer Ben Ripley, this time-tripping thriller just about has it all: a clever sci-fi concept, an absorbing murder mystery, a runaway romance and a solid share of thrills and spills to help disguise the fact that people are actually thinking during a multiplex movie.

Jake Gyllenhaal (Prince of Persia) stars as US Marine Coulter Stevens, who despite having two last names — welcome to the club! — has bigger identity issues at hand. Mysteriously, he’s woken up on a Chicago-bound train, sitting opposite a woman named Christina (Michelle Monaghan; Due Date) who insists he is actually Sean, a humble school teacher. “That b*tch be crazy!” I hear you say. Well, under normal circumstances, you’d probably be right. But she not be crazy, because for the next 8 minutes, Coulter is Sean. Or at least, his mind is in Sean’s body. But here’s the kicker: as soon as those 8 minutes are up, the train explodes in a ball of fire, killing Sean and everyone else on-board.

2011 source code 0091 e1304556916350 600x273 Source Code (Review)

Now, this is where things would get tricky if it wasn’t for Ripley’s slow-release approach to storytelling. After the train disaster, Coulter wakes again in a top-secret military facility, the kind where millions is spent on cutting-edge equipment and nothing on sufficiently lighting the place. He’s told by the dour Capt. Goodwin (Vera Farmiga; Up in the Air) that he has been (involuntarily) hooked up to the Source Code; a fandangle machine that allows the user to play out the last 8 minutes of someone else’s life, in this case Sean’s. Whilst in the machine, Coulter’s mission is to identify the terrorist bomber on board the train before he strikes the city in an even larger attack. Given that everyone on the train is already dead – and will stay that way regardless of what happens – he has permission to use any means necessary to find the bomber. If he fails, he just reboots and tries again.

Essentially, if you were to breed Groundhog Day with 12 Monkeys, you’d get Source Code (not to mention one exhausted groundhog). I’ll admit, even for a sci-fi movie about time-travelling loops, the concept can be a bit of stretch to believe, especially given the way the “rules” change dramatically towards the end (compared to a film like Inception, where the rules are a little more laid out). Still, Source Code is much more than a film about geeky stuff like quantum time travel; it’s also about the soul, believe it or not. And what it means to be alive.

Moon, if you’ll recall, explored similar themes of identity, so it’s easy to see why Duncan Jones was so drawn to the material. While the director’s personality doesn’t come out nearly as much as it did with his debut – I suspect he played it safe to appease his overlords producers – his passion for the project is evident in the way he gets his actors to unearth these underlying themes with such clarity. Gyllenhaal may appear, at first, to be playing the stock-standard hero, but his clear understanding of character allows for the occasional tender, honest moment to shine through. Michelle Monaghan hasn’t nearly as much character to work with as Coulter/Shaun’s love interest Christina, but with that warming smile, 8 minutes is ample time to fall in love with her. The only performer here who doesn’t belong is character actor Jeffrey Wright (Quantum of Solace) as the Source Code’s creator Dr. Rutledge, who oddly overacts like he’s playing the US President in a direct-to-DVD disaster movie.

Without giving away too much, I will say that the ending left me a little cold, which is a real shame considering it had the potential to be quite moving if it just cut to the credits a few minutes earlier. Sure, the epilogue paves the way for some interesting debates amongst sci-fi fanatics, but I suspect most moviegoers will find that the science gets in the way of the sentiment.

Still, what we have here is a tremendously enjoyable trip to the movies, one that gets your blood pumping fast enough to keep your brain ticking. Few burgeoning filmmakers have made the transition from budget backlots to bustling Hollywood studios as smoothly as Jones has here. Ziggy Stardust would be over the moon.

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