Wednesday 24 August 2011

Movie Review: SOURCE CODE (2011)

Wednesday 24 August 2011
directed by Duncan Jones; written by Ben Ripley
starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga & Jeffrey Wright

This sophomore effort from Duncan Jones proves his mesmeric sci-fi Moon was no fluke, delivering another sci-fi tale just as brilliant and compelling. It's a more expensive and crowd-pleasing venture, but Ben Ripley's script refuses to sacrifice intelligence. Source Code may look like a popcorn action thriller splicing together Quantum Leap and Groundhog Day, but it soon reveals a distinctiveness that makes the journey that much sweeter.

Army helicopter pilot Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up aboard a commuter train approaching Chicago, sitting across from travelling companion Christina (Michelle Monaghan), who appears to know him as teacher Sean Fentress. Unnervingly, Colter's reflection isn't his own, but before he can fathom what's going on the train's destroyed and derailed in a large explosion—with Colter jerking "awake" inside a cramped cockpit, where he's hastily debriefed by a Captain Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) over a video-feed, before she sends him back to relive the last eight minutes of the train's journey again... and again... and again. The only way the loop will end is when Colter correctly identifies the mystery bomber responsible for blowing up the train, thus completing his recon mission, but can he save all the passengers and change history? Or is that against the rules and simply impossible?

The best thing about Source Code is how you start watching fully prepared to enjoy the ride, but largely believing it'll be predictable because the premise doesn't sound too exceptional, only to be pleasantly surprised by the handful of surprises up its sleeve. The film's unique qualities start bubbling to the surface halfway through, and suddenly you're peering into deeper questions with greater dramatic stakes. It's also a story that loses impact the more you tease it (so most things will have to remain vague beyond the establishing setup), but, suffice to say, you can add Source Code to the list of movies with endings that provoke a debate about the slippery nature of reality, time-travel, parallel universes, and quantum mechanics.

In the current landscape—where sci-fi movies are often thin excuses to show gigantic alien robots fighting each other or major cities being trashed—it's great to know there are filmmakers like Jones who are determined to tell stories that present ideas and don't patronize their audience. Perhaps the only questionable flaw with Source Code is that its science is very improbable, and only just manages to sound semi-convincing when hastily explained by Jeffrey Wright's egghead, but I didn't mind because it resulted in a different kind of time-travel tale. One where even the creator doesn't realize what has been achieved, exactly...

Gyllenhaal grabs his best role post-Brokeback Mountain as the army soldier determined to save the day, despite being treated as a lab rat by his superiors, as he slowly begins to comprehend the (alleged) futility of his situation. Monagahn makes for a very capable love-interest, even if the story ironically doesn't have time to do justice to that element of the movie. Instead, the focus in on Colter's own frustrations with his bizarre mission and the creeping feeling that important information's being withheld, and he's no longer an individual but instead cog in the gears of a time-machine.

This is a fantastic movie that balances the demands of a blockbuster (tight action, tangible jeopardy, moments of spectacle), with the demands of "real" sci-fi that merrily leads you down some fascinating, unforeseen, mental avenues. Throw in some great performances from everyone, an apposite vocal cameo from Quantum Leap star Scott Bakula, and one of the best movie endings of recent memory, and Source Code is one train you shouldn't miss.

Summit Entertainment; 93 minutes