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Review: Source Code

Source Code
03.30.2011
7 10

PLOT: Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), a helicopter pilot serving a tour in Afghanistan, wakes up on board a commuter train in Chicago, with his consciousness somehow transferred to another man’s body. After a few minutes, the train blows up, and he finds himself sitting in a simulation chamber, utterly alone except for an officer (Vera Farmiga) who communicates with him via video screen. He discovers that he’s now embedded in the “Source Code” and that he’s involved in a mission to somehow discover who’s behind the train bombing- with him being forced to repeatedly relieve the same seven minutes prior to the train’s destruction. Along the way, he falls in love with a fellow doomed passenger (Michelle Monaghan).

REVIEW: SOURCE CODE is the sophomore film from director Duncan Jones, whose previous feature, MOON, was one of the sleepers of the 2009 Sundance film fest. It ranked highly on my own ten-best list from that year, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting SOURCE CODE, as I truly believe Duncan Jones might be the next Bryan Singer or Christopher Nolan.


Does SOURCE CODE live up to the promise of MOON? Yes and no. SOURCE CODE is a far more conventional film than MOON, and to me, it feel more like an exercise for Jones to flex his directorial muscles a bit, and get comfortable working with a bigger budget, than a full-on follow-up to that near-masterpiece. In many ways, it’s a lot like Singer and Nolan’s respective follow-ups to THE USUAL SUSPECTS, and MEMENTO. I don’t think anyone would claim that APT PUPIL anywhere near the level of THE USUAL SUSPECTS, but it allowed Singer to move right into X-MEN, while Nolan followed-up MEMENTO with INSOMNIA, which was solid enough, but still a somewhat pale imitation of the Norwegian film it was a remake of. While both of these films were disappointing to fans of Nolan and Singer’s earlier work, it turns out they were critical in allowing them to mold their talent to a larger canvas. When an indie director immediately gets a huge budget, you often end up with something like Richard Kelly’s SOUTHLAND TALES.

So, by comparison, SOURCE CODE is a pretty promising follow-up for Jones, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see him jumping on-board a large scale project once this opens. On its own merits, SOURCE CODE is a solid little thriller, although it can’t help but feel a little too much like a particularly good episode of THE OUTER LIMITS stretched out to feature length.

The premise, which sees Gyllenhaal repeatedly being zapped back to the moments before the passenger train explodes does indeed get a bit tiresome after a while, and all though it’s been compared to GROUNDHOG DAY, it doesn’t come close that film, which somehow manages to get better with each passing year.


However, there’s still enough going on in SOURCE CODE to make it a fairly satisfying film. There’s actually more to it than the trailers would have you believe, with this not being quite the action vehicle it’s being sold as. While not as cerebral as MOON, it does continue one of the central ideas of MOON, which was the justification of essentially enslaving a man’s consciousness, even though they themselves are not aware they’re being used. And, where Rockwell’s character in MOON was haunted by his failed relationship with his wife and the idea of his daughter growing up without him, Gyllenhaal is obsessed with making peace with his estranged father. It’s nice to see a director that can appreciate emotion.

In the lead, Gyllenhaal is fairly good; although he’s more of a generic, square-jawed leading man than the dynamic Sam Rockwell who I’d argue was Oscar-worthy in MOON. Gyllenhaal is fine (with him bouncing back nicely from PRINCE OF PERSIA and LOVE & OTHER DRUGS), but for my money, the real highlight of the film is Vera Farmiga.


In a less capable actress’ hands, her role could have been very boring, with her (and to a lesser extent Jeffrey Wright) being responsible for delivering most of the exposition while Gyllenhaal gets all the heroics. However, Farmiga embellishes her character with a strong sense of morality, and throughout she seems truly conflicted by her duty. Towards the end of the film, she really starts to get interesting, and for me, her climactic actions make her the most heroic character in the film.

As for Michelle Monaghan, well- she’s the pretty, wholesome love interest, and she’s certainly pretty and wholesome, but it’s a two dimensional part. She’s a great actress (terrific in KISS, KISS, BANG, BANG and TRUCKER), but this is a pretty standard, woman in peril role.

One of the things I most liked about SOURCE CODE was the superb, Jerry Goldsmith-Lalo Schffrin mid-seventies style score by Chris Bacon. Once again, this shows that Jones really appreciates a good score, with this being almost as good as the amazing score Clint Mansell (not Cliff Martinez- thanks to a sharp-eyed reader for pointed that out!) contributed to MOON. Speaking of MOON, take note of Michelle Monaghan’s cell-phone ring-tone, which is a tune that’ll be very familiar to MOON fans.

While SOURCE CODE isn’t exactly a slam-dunk, it’s still a fairly effective and fun thriller. It also strikes me as the type of film that may get better after a second viewing. Don’t for a second think you’ll get anything as profound as MOON, but it’s well-crafted, and bodes well for Jones’ future behind the camera.

Source: JoBlo.com

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