Tuesday, July 05, 2011
Source Code (2011)
(Image from Imp Awards)
Continuing the sci-fi theme, Source Code is another film that managed to surprisingly exceed expectations. The trailer did little to inspire confidence despite the film being from Duncan Jones, the director of the superb 'Moon'; and, despite what it's title appears to promise, it has nothing to do with computer programming.
The plot reads like something from a Twilight Zone episode. Soldier Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds himself in a bit of a predicament - thanks to a rather implausible combination of quantum mechanics and the last memories of a dead man, he is repeatedly sent back in time (in a sense) to inhabit the body of said dead man in the last eight minutes of his life. Said life ended when the train the man was on exploded in a terrorist attack, and the unwitting Stevens' mission is to try and determine the identity of the bomber from among the passengers in the carriage, including his fellow passenger Christina (Michelle Monaghan). Each time through Stevens gets to relive the same eight minutes to try and gather info before the train explodes and he's returned to his own body in the present, where he is grilled by members of the 'Source Code' project (played by Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright) before being sent back again.
This sounds like a very grim version of Groundhog Day sans Bill Murray, but fortunately the film wastes little time trying to surprise its jaded 21st century audience with the mechanics of its concept as if it were a novel one. On the contrary it jumps right in with an initially incredulous Stevens trying to work out the identity of the bomber, sometimes in surprisingly humourous ways. Gyllenhaal plays earnest and desperate very effectively, with a little tortured soul vibe thrown in for good measure, and he and the reliably vivacious Monaghan play off each other nicely. The train is populated by a varied group of characters who are - fortunately - interesting without reaching Hollywood levels of quirkiness.
Another compelling aspect of the film is the downtime between iterations when Stevens deals with the Source Code team and his own personal baggage. It's made apparent from the outset that they are hiding something while putting pressure on him to determine who the bomber is before he gets a chance to strike again. This aspect of the story also works surprisingly well despite seeming trite at first glance, and it's helped along by Farmiga's performance as the stern yet compassionate liaison and Wright's borderline comical Dr Rutledge, the project's founder.
There may be some weak elements, including a villain who achieves snicker inducing levels of cliched and an ending that may disappoint some (I found it satisfactory and earned), but despite that and the seemingly shaky premise Jones and his cast and crew have crafted an entertaining and intriguing sci-fi mystery thriller that doesn't shy away from toying with grand themes like free will vs destiny (though, unlike with Adjustment Bureau, in a more pseudo-scientific way) and individual liberty. The characters are also more than just mere hackneyed plot devices, which adds considerable depth to the film.
While it is ultimately a padded out short story that still only barely crosses the 90 minute mark, what it does it does very well. Smarter and better made than most mainstream sci-fi efforts and still accessible to the average (non-retarded) film fan, it's worth your while and would make a great double bill with the Adjustment Bureau (I didn't watch them as a double bill but did see them consecutively).