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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 8, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 14
Tricky Source Code a Hitchcockian sci-fi blast
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Tricky Source Code a Hitchcockian sci-fi blast

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Source Code
Opening April 1
Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) isn't sure what is going on. He's woken up on a Chicago commuter train talking to a strange if friendly woman named Christina (Michelle Monaghan) as if they've been longtime friends, even though they've just met. The last thing he remembers was being in Afghanistan flying a helicopter, so trying to make sense out of this seemingly innocuous situation is driving him mad. Something is obviously wrong, and he's got to figure out what that is, or the only logical conclusion is that he's gone insane.

Suddenly, an explosion rips through the train, killing everyone. Colter jolts again, and this time he finds himself stuck inside a strange mechanical pod filled with a variety of blinking lights and numerous switches. A fellow soldier calling herself Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) appears before him on a small monitor asking if he discovered the identity of the bomber, wanting to know if his mission was a success. A man appears, a Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), who wants to know whether or not he was successful as well, ordering that he be sent back to the train to try again if he was not.

The basics behind director Duncan Jones' marvelous Source Code are simple. Working from a script by Ben Ripley, the film is your basic Twilight Zone situation of a man going back in time again and again and again to repeat the last eight minutes in another fellow's life, attempting to solve a crime committed in the past so that the perpetrator cannot do it again in a quickly approaching future. It's a ticking-clock thriller that's one part Speed and two parts Groundhog Day, and the final product is a rapid-fire adventure that's as fun and playful as it is action-packed and filled with suspense.

In other words, Jones has constructed a thoroughly entertaining jaunt worthy of multiple viewings. On the one hand discussing complicated theoretical scientific possibilities, on the other a mismatched love story filled with witty verbal repartee, the movie is a joyous frolic that's as intriguing as it is agreeable. By the time it came to its more than satisfactory conclusion, I found it difficult not to walk out of the theater impressed. Even if some of the film strained credulity to its breaking point, the fun to be had far outweighed the sometimes melodramatic silliness inherent in the presented situations.

It starts with Gyllenhaal. This is the kind of action picture or thriller he should be appearing in, not overblown animated Jerry Bruckheimer spectacles like The Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. This movie and this role play to his ample strengths, allowing him to flex his comedic and dramatic muscles at the same time. His initial paranoia at the strangeness of his situation is catching, as is his growing desire to save the life of a woman he just met (and who he knows is long dead). There is a richness to his portrayal that's surprising, and as the movie progressed, figuring out what he was going to do and how he was going to respond to each nugget of uncovered information proved to be a consistent delight.

I must say, however, that Farmiga is even better. She's got an incredibly difficult role, spending a good majority of her screen time as nothing more than a figure sitting on the other side of a television monitor. Yet her performance grows in emotional weight and depth as the film progresses, and the actress gives her conflicting thoughts and desires shape as her charge comes closer and closer to achieving his goals. Her actions end up being the ones I found myself connected to the most, and her decisions are all ones I'd like to believe the majority of us would also make if found in a similar situation.

So the movie is fairly silly, and the central mystery isn't so much a puzzle as it is a series of sketches flashed upon the screen, leading to a somewhat foregone conclusion. The science behind Source Code was so nondescript and sketchy that there were moments where all that was missing was Doc Brown to arrive with his shock of white hair ablaze, cackling on about space-time continuums and paradoxes that could destroy the universe.

But so what? Few movies are just this gosh darn cool, and I enjoyed the heck out of it first frame to last. The performances are all solid, and other than some so-so CGI, everything is great from a technical standpoint. (Paul Hirsch's (Star Wars) editing is particularly noteworthy.)

As sophomore efforts go, Source Code is an even more impressive effort than was Jones' first flick, Moon, and the final product is a Hitchcockian sci-fi locomotive that's a complete blast for every one of its breathless 93 minutes.

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