Thursday, April 7, 2011
SOURCE CODE is the highly anticipated follow-up to Duncan Jones' well-received directorial debut MOON (I named it the best film of 2009). Even though his sophomore feature was seemingly made to further his profile and display his prowess with larger amounts of studio money/resources, it also serves as a natural follow-up to MOON thematically. Both deal effectively with questions of perceived/artificial existence, but SOURCE CODE also reaches further into the sci-fi bag-o-topics including alternate timelines/realities. It is this sense of existential and quantum exploration that elevates SOURCE CODE above your standard fare and allows for Jones to make something thought-provoking, as all good science fiction should be.
SOURCE CODE was billed in trailers as something of a mystery, which it is, but not in the way the ads would have us believe. The "whodunit?" element is still there; Gyllenhaal's Colter Stevens is repeatedly being psychically transported into the body of a man aboard of a already-destroyed Chicago train for the same 8 minutes in time in the hopes that he can deduce the identity of its bomber. However, I would call this the secondary mystery. The true mystery is 'what the hell is going on with Stevens?' and 'what exactly does the Source Code do?'. The protagonist actually spends a great deal more time (on screen at least) investigating this issue rather than looking for the terrorist, which is great because it's a hell of a lot more interesting. Eventually, his points of contact in the real world, played by Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright, give him answers as to what is going on. This exposition would be disastrous to the film if it weren't apparent that they (mostly Wright) are continuously holding back and/or don't truly understand the function of the Source Code either.
The points between answers to the above questions are well-executed and emotional, featuring interesting perspectives about mortal cognizance and also some decent, well-paced character development in the case of Stevens. The train-bomber mystery is a bit weak, especially considering that the culprit is heavily telegraphed near the beginning of the film, but as long as you view this as secondary, you'll get more out of your experience.
The performances in the film are all quite strong. Wright captures just enough mad-scientist to be memorable without going illogically overboard and Farmiga, who often appears simply as a face on a screen, puts in a strong performance as a conflicted Source Code technician/officer. Her turn in the end strikes me as a bit of a stretch, but it's necessary for the plot so I'll let it go. Gyllenhaal is very good as Stevens, handling the character's emotional experience most admirably. He also inserts a great deal of charm and humor into Stevens, making him a deal more likable. Michelle Monaghan's Christina doesn't impose herself on the narrative unnecessary, which was a good choice. The actress doesn't have a chance to put in a performance with a lot of depth, but her stagnation in the face of Gyllenhaal's constant flux is its own minor triumph. As a final note about the cast: I think it was pretty rad to have Scott Bakula voice Stevens' dad and use the phrase "Oh boy" ("Quantum Leap" reference").
The revelation of what the Source Code truly accomplishes is somewhat easy to figure out, but that doesn't distract from the fact that it is nonetheless equal parts fascinating and horrifying. There are certainly some questions to be raised and potential plot holes to be explored, such as the titular device's relationship to Stevens' conscious. However, sometimes, when dealing with science fiction, you just have to have a little faith in the mechanism.
In what could have been a cop-out of an ending, we receive a pretty classic sci-fi conclusion. There's so much potential for furthering the story (on two fronts) that it's almost a shame that we are unlikely to see a sequel. The ending could open the narrative up to a greater sci-fi franchise with Gyllenhaal building on the character he's cultivated. Perhaps it's a good thing though. Jones will move on to bigger and better things and SOURCE CODE will go down as an enjoyable one-off with a great resolution untarnished by further exploration.
Posted by The Schmoo at 11:10 AM