Friday, 8 April 2011

Source Code - Film of the year 2011 anybody?

Certificate: 12A
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga
Director: Duncan Jones
Duration: 93 minutes

The 'unshaven man with gun side profile' marketing spiel does not do the movie's immense substance any favours.

Last year’s Inception may have paved the way for a new generation of movies set within dream worlds that bend the rules of our perceived realities, but Source Code stands up on its own as an absolutely brilliant piece of science fiction from the maker of 2009s Moon.

A US army pilot by the name of Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakes on board a train of commuters bound for Chicago. This is strange because he is supposed to be serving in Afghanistan. Further adding to the confusion Stevens finds that he is trapped within another man’s body, a man by the name of Shaun who is clearly in a relationship with Christine (Michelle Monaghan), the woman who sits opposite. Before Stevens can make any clear sense of the situation the train suddenly explodes in a ball of flame.

Far from being dead, however, Stevens wakes up in a dark room strapped into some kind of machine. In front of him is a computer screen where a Captain Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) informs him that the event he witnessed was a terrorist attack that occurred earlier in the day, relived by Stevens through the Source Code a new technological breakthrough which allows military intelligence to replay the last 8 minutes of a person’s life. Being a trained solider, Stevens has been called upon to enter the Source Code and identify the bomber responsible for blowing up the train. He must do this before the same bomber sets off another dirty bomb in the heart of Chicago, which will kill millions.

If you knew you only had one minute left to live what would do?
Source Code is Duncan Jones second feature film after 2009’s Moon which was quite rightly met with fervent critical acclaim. Like Moon, Source Code is another science fiction story that is less about the fantasy that the genre is usually associated with and more based upon the ideas that the question of science brings to the existence of mankind. There are many similarities between both movies, namely because both films involve a pawn like character in a highly isolated position by the will of a much larger organization whose motivations are largely obtuse and unclear. Source Code could have been a generic thriller, in the vein of Tony Scott’s 2006 movie Déjà vu which is what the trailer and marketing spiel will make you believe, but Jones really plays with the concept within the film’s tidy 90 minutes of duration.

The movie is a gold mine of themes and points of interest just dying to be read into and discussed feverishly by eager film buffs. I feel very limited in what I say about the movie out of fear of spoiling it for potential audiences, the less you know about it the better. I will say that there is the pervading question of the duty of the solider or the armed forces in general, and how they put themselves on the line for the salvation of the majority. However, in a neat twist, the whole idea is effectively turned on it’s head with the film set in an environment in which the people onboard the train have all died and are beyond saving, or at least in the mind of the military intelligence. Colter Stevens becomes a character who needs to see that he is making a difference to people’s lives even if it is within the artificial construct of the Source Code. He has little attachment to the people affected by the larger dirty bomb, but instead the people on board the train existing in his estranged sense of reality become the driving force to find the bomber. There is also the question how far the Source Code goes to replicate reality, which opens up an entire can of worms where discussion is concerned! However, when all those eight minute sessions explode with no clear resolution, you feel the character’s pain.

Jake Gyllenhaal really makes the movie. Bouncing back into form after last summer’s Prince of Persia once again proving how versatile he is as a leading actor. As Colter Stevens, Gyllenhaal isn’t an action thriller stalwart like Jason Bourne as his name may suggest, he is more of a grunt, his methods of identifying the bomber are initially blunt and based on stereotypical racial profiling. Almost humorously, like in Ground Dog day, it is by witnessing the same eight minutes over and over again that Stevens becomes more suave and sophisticated in his methods not only as a secret agent like character but also a romantic lead as he effectively knows what Christina is going to say next. Jones plays with this comedic angle in the earlier stages of the film, and Gyllenhaal plays it with the kind of goofy edge that reminded me of Donnie Darko, another cult classic that you will almost certainly draw parallels with when watching Source Code.

We've only got three minutes to save the world!
The supporting cast is also very good. I haven’t yet seen a movie in which Michelle Monaghan stars in which I haven’t liked her as a character. Her screen time is perhaps limited in comparison to the rest of the cast but she does provide Steven’s character a reason and motivation to succeed in his mission. It is made all the more difficult for the audience, as we know that she has basically died but is given extra life via the Source Code. Vira Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright play the two opposing forces supervising Stevens as he works within the Source Code. Though the latter plays something of a generic character, coming across as a cantankerous old scientist looking for promotion and possibly more funding from the military, Farmiga in contrast does well to humanize the army intelligence side of things, conveniently drip feeding Stevens with all the ‘need to know’ details in the advance of the plot.

Like the Adjustment Bureau, Source Code might not have the catchiest of movie titles but be under no illusions, this is an absolutely brilliant movie that you must see even if it means going out of your way to do so. It manages to be a successful thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat but the film has so many other things going. There are a lot of times during the movie that you think you’ll have the plot sussed but the movie manages to keep one step ahead or at least engage the audience be it through the Groundhog Day styled humour or the tremendous emotional weight the movie carries which is thankfully devoid of the usual Hollywood schmaltz and sentimentality.

Opening on the same day as Sucker Punch, a movie that has caused many a critic to start quoting Revelations heralding the death knell of a film industry bankrupt of original and new ideas, Source Code is proof that good films are still being made. Intelligent, slick, a veritable roller coaster thriller with an array of twists and turns and an immensely heart wrenching emotional core, Source Code is all the things that is great about cinema. You flocked to the cinema to see Inception applauding it for its intelligence and vision, now you should do the same for Source Code.  


No comments:

Post a Comment