SXSW 2011 Review: SOURCE CODE
Writer: Ben Ripley
Director: Duncan Jones
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright
Duncan Jone's MOON was a brilliant, small-scale, and power science fiction film. Working on a limited scope, Jones found the core of the story and was able to draw on it to make a minor classic in the genre. Choosing another sci-fi story for this second movie was an obvious choice- it's a realm in which he is obvious comfortable. There's a difference in type of audience Jone's is going after in his new film, a sci-fi thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal, though, but that doesn't mean it is any less compelling.
SOURCE CODE starts with a man (Jake Gyllenhaal) waking on a train, promptly greeted by a female passenger (Michelle Monaghan) sitting across from him. It is immediately obvious this man is disoriented, unaware of his surroundings and his relationship with the woman, Christina. She calls him Sean, obviously acquainted with him, and before he can piece anything of substance together, the train explodes. The man, who we learn later is actually Captain Colter Stevens, then finds himself equally as confused in a pod of some sort, buckled to a seat and Carol Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) on a screen in front of him talking about 'Beleaguered Castle'. We soon learn that Colter is on a mission to stop the bombing on the train and the way by which he can accomplish this is called 'source code'.
Director Duncan Jones and writer Ben Ripley have crafted an excellent science fiction story that is filtered through blockbuster sensibilities. SOURCE CODE unfolds slowly at first but once the tension begins to escalate it moves forward at an incredible pace. Every necessary beat to qualify SOURCE CODE as a popcorn film is hit but through it all, it doesn't forget its strong sci-fi core. The revelation of what exactly 'source code' is comes in a fairly expository fashion but one will be quick to discover that it is not the central mystery. How Captain Colter (and his superiors) use the the technology, how Colter became involved with the project, and even the the core rules of the technology itself are all in question. The film keeps things grounded in human emotion by developing the relationship between Colter and Christina in ways that may be cliched but are almost always effective. In the end, the balance between sci-fi and popcorn styles mesh very well.
The performances are adequate all around with the glaring exception of Jeffrey Wright. His character, who is the head of the Source Code project, is the weakest in terms of scripting. While his motives are in question from the beginning, the character is constantly reminding the audience of his potential nefarious objectives. It doesn't help that Wright plays this in cartoonish fashion, hobbling around with his cane and talking in stutters interrupted by heavy sighs. It's a small complaint, though, and its fortunate that we spend more time with Farmiga's character than his. The special effects are quite good- the train disaster especially is kinetic and exciting- and Jones constantly finds ways to add visual touches to limited, small sets.
SOURCE CODE may sound slight, and it is, but that works to its advantage. It is an easy film to recommend but not so easy to explain why without ruining the many surprises found in the film. Audience goers should know from a short synopsis whether or not this is their type of film and it would be best thought about as a thriller if one is on the fence. The film's biggest strengths are in its core concepts- which are science heavy- but explain in a way easy to digest for any moviegoer, and a focus on the characters of Colter and Christina and how a relationship can develop in such odd circumstances. SOURCE CODE balances formulas appealing to an extremely wide range of movie goers and should go far towards making Duncan Jones a better known name.
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