REVIEW ON DVD: ‘Source Code’
YATES: ‘Source Code’ begins promising and unravels quickly
Anna and I take a break from the summer blockbuster circuit to catch up on a new DVD release that is a big budget action flick in its own right in “Source Code.” Director Duncan Jones hit an absolute homerun in his 2009 directorial debut with the lesser-hyped “Moon.” How would he fare in his sophomore effort that featured a much larger budget? Bigger is not always better when it comes to Hollywood, and unfortunately that seems to be the case here.
Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal, “Brokeback Mountain”) awakens on a train in a body belonging to someone else, and soon learns he is the centerpiece of a government mission to find the bomber of a commuter train in Chicago. A program called the source code puts Colter on the train eight minutes prior to the bomb detonation to uncover the bomber’s identity before the threat of a second attack is carried through. Colter must battle the clock, his government cohorts, and his own demons – all in short eight minute spans – in order to save the lives of millions.
There are a couple inherent flaws with a film such as “Source Code.” For one, when you repeat the same eight minutes over and over for the majority of the film, it is extremely hard to develop any depth amongst the characters. Colter is eventually revealed as a sympathetic protagonist, but he spends the first part of the film coming off as a bit of a jerk, harassing random passengers on the train. The rest of the film’s characters are all minor and we know absolutely nothing about them, even with a romantic subplot involving Colter and Christine (Michelle Monaghan, “Eagle Eye”), the girlfriend of the man whose body he’s been placed in.
The second inherent flaw that happens all too often in these psychological thrillers is when you have a situation in which the main character is confused and unaware of his or her surroundings, it is often presented in a way that is confusing to the audience as well. It’s a double-edged sword as you don’t want to reveal too much to the viewer too early, but you also have to make the plot somewhat cohesive. “Source Code” is wrought with unnecessary non-linear time jumps and plot holes that just don’t add up — their sole purpose seems to be to establish that poor Colter is very confused — yet it really only confuses the viewer.
“Source Code” begins promising — a bit of a Hitchcock “whodunit” on a train — but things start to unravel quickly. A mid-film plot twist is completely predictable — thus nullifying it as a true twist. Colter as a hero is paper thin at best. He spends most of the film worrying less about saving millions of lives and more about falling for his new girlfriend — in the span of eight minutes, mind you. The mission sends him back to the train countless times, but when Colter questions if the program could be used for a higher purpose and asks to go in again, his government handlers act like the source code program charges by the hour.
“Source Code” scratches the surface of some interesting themes such as free will, alternate and parallel realities, and soldiers used as disposable assets. Unfortunately, the film’s plot refuses to settle on one point and instead skims the surface of several. With a bit more focus, “Source Code” could have been a though-provoking film asking us to consider the growing role and future implications of technology in our lives. As it stands now, it’s more of a disjointed action flick that is somewhat entertaining yet mostly predictable.
WIEGENSTEIN: ‘Source Code’ winds up mostly successful
“Source Code” was unfortunate enough to come out amongst a slew of “Inception”-like reality-bending action pieces in the early part of 2011. For a while, its trailer could be mashed up with “Limitless” and “The Adjustment Bureau” with almost no effort. The difference here is in the director — Duncan Jones, who recently gave Sam Rockwell the role of his life in “Moon.” And just as “Moon” wasn’t a paint-by-numbers sci-fi thriller, “Source Code” is a smarter and much more engaging film than its counterparts. Here’s a movie that uses its explosions not to bombard the audience with CGI, but to create a painterly still image that Jones is content to linger on for as long as he chooses.
When Coulter (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakes, he’s Sean. If that sounds confusing, don’t worry — the U.S. Army officer is just as discombobulated as the audience. Eight minutes after he finds himself inhabiting someone else’s body, the Chicago commuter train he’s riding is engulfed by a massive explosion, jolting him back to a form of limbo where an initially impassive military figure named Goodwin (Vera Farmiga). She explains the situation: Coulter is in the midst of a “time reassignment” program, and his sole purpose is to play an eight-minute role over and over until identifying which passenger rigged the bomb. Between this and “Transformers: Dark Of The Moon,” it looks like Chicago is finally getting its day in the sun as a center of destruction — congrats, I guess.
Checking in at a brisk 90 minutes, screenwriter Ben Ripley fills his big-screen debut with touches of past mystery storytellers — the premise is pure Agatha Christie, and the amount of focus given to tiny details owes more than a little to Alfred Hitchcock, a director who knew his way around a great train movie. Ripley asks the viewer to pay attention, a move that is sorely missing from numerous movies that happen to feature large fireballs.
Gyllenhaal (last seen in the semi-regrettable “Love And Other Drugs” and the fully unfortunate “Prince Of Persia” adaptation) is able to strike both the emotional and adventurous notes that his previous two projects swung at and missed. While he’s always been convincing in action roles (“Jarhead” most notably), the scenes where he quietly comes to terms with his halfway existence hit just as hard.
Given that Coulter is onscreen for 99 percent of the runtime, it’s difficult for any of the supporting cast to rise to his level. Michelle Monaghan’s love interest role is shallow, as the plot necessitates that it be — she’s only given eight minutes each time, after all, with half of her lines unchanging from one iteration to the next. As Coulter’s supervisory officer, Vera Farmiga’s job is to exude empathy, which she does just fine in the three moments she’s allowed any range at all. Other than that, Goodwin is to the audience just what she is to Coulter: a flat image on a screen.
Unfortunately, “Source Code” ultimately shoots itself in the foot due to a ten-minute plot addition that weakens what might have been a striking finale. However, Jones maintains his reputation as a director who’s gifted at tweaking existing genre tropes to smarten up his films. Thanks to this canny ability and the solid leading performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, “Source Code” winds up mostly successful, and a full lap ahead of its earlier competitors.
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