Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review: Source Code


The best thing Source Code had going for it pre-release was it was directed by Duncan Jones, who will always have to live up to his father's fame, an obscure little musician named David Bowie. Yes, the son of Ziggy Stardust has become a sci-fi director, who's only previous title was 2009's Moon. And I want to be clear about this: I FUCKING LOVED MOON! One of the best science fiction films of the decade (second only to District 9 really), Moon is a hard standard to live up to. And while note quite as good, Source Code does admirably.

Jake Gyllenhal (who really cannot find a steady level of quality for his movies) has the lead as Colter Stevens, a soldier involved with the titular Source Code Project, which allows him to repeatedly enter the mind of a man who died during a train bombing to try and find the bomb and find out who did it to prevent a future bombing.

That sounds convoluted but it's not. The plot is fairly straightforward and 99 percent of the scenes take place in one of 2 locations (the train itself or the source code box that Colter is in). The concept itself seems to be custom designed to present the viewer and the characters with dozens of red herrings and while it does that, it never feels gratuitous or like it's stalling.

On that note, the screenplay is nice and nuanced, all the characters well rounded and interesting. Colter gets the most focus obviously, giving us a great look at how a real human would react to the rather extreme circumstances. The science is soft enough to almost liquify (which is quite a difference from Moon's extreme realism) but so long as everyone treats it with urgency, it's consistent and they don't dwell on it, it shouldn't damage the film and it doesn't. The characters are (mostly) well rounded, and the film does get more than it's share of emotion moments.

The visual style is nice and interesting, even while it owes more than a little to 12 Monkeys. The cinematography is well used and subtle, as is the editing which allow for some interesting visuals and digressions in between sessions on the train. The music is nice, if a bit forgettable. The CGI, what little there is, is well used and integrated into the film. I should warn you that those of you expecting an action film, as shown in the trailers are gonna leave disappointed. It's pacing is nice and gradual, only speeding up when it needs to, and leaving itself at a solid and comfortable pace.

Gylenhall's (your name is killing me Jake) performance is easily the standout of the film, understated and believable. All in all it's probably his best performance since Zodiac. Monica Monaghan and Vera Farmiga do solid jobs with the time their given, as does Jeffery Wright although his character is a little more one dimensional. Oh and Scott Bakula has a nicely meta voice cameo...remember he was in Quantum Leap? Yeah, that's why it's funny.

It's not entirely perfect. The villain's motivation is a little unclear, the ending is a tad too long, but does what it needs to in that time so we'll forgive it. It also feels a little too scared of explaining everything too early, so bits of information are doled out piecemeal and while that's a good way of keeping every bit of information we need dropped in an expositional block, it also means that we figure a couple things out too quickly. Also, I really wish the trailers hadn't given away all the tech, because the opening does a nice job of being mysterious.

Look, I'd normally be inclined to recommend this movie just so it can make money and we can get a proper career out of Mr. Jones (IE, one of the most promising up and coming directors currently out there) but for my money, it really is rather excellent. It's easily the best thing currently in wide release and it's probably the best movie I've seen all year, so don't miss it. See you next time.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan-born cinephile and he spent the entire movie jealous of how much more awesome the train in the movie is than the ones near him.

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