Thursday, 14 April 2011

Film Review | Source Code, dir. Duncan Jones

Everyone loves Source Code.

Andrew Liptak loves Source Code. So does the hard-to-impress Brian Lindorf - one of the esteemed stable of reviewers out of Dark Horizons. SF Signal loves Source Code, and io9, pretty much, and the 5,000-odd folks who've voted as such on the IMDB.

Me? I don't mean to be contrary. I mean, I liked it. It's a solid little film. Well conceived, well cast and well executed. But love? The stuff of adoration and undying devotion? It's hard to summon such extremes of feeling for an endeavour so slight.

Source Code is the story of one Colter Stevens, an army sergeant assigned for some mysterious reason to an experimental project whereby, thanks to a flourish of fringe science, he is able to relive the last eight minutes of a man's life - over and over again. The man in this instance is one of a hundred or more victims from a Chicago train bombing, and the terrorists responsible have still more devastating plans for later in the day: a dirty bomb which only Jake Gyllenhaal as Colter Stevens as Sean Fentress stands to stop.

Source Code is Groundhog Day for a more speculative fiction-friendly generation, in short, one weaned on 12 Monkeys and The Matrix, and the first comparison at the least is spot-on. For its 90 minutes - and they're over in what feels half of that - Source Code is a chronicle of Sgt. Colter Stevens going back and back and back again to the beginning of an eight minute cycle; learning incrementally to perfect those precious seconds so as to discover the terrorist who means to detonate a dirty bomb, as well as to find in this second chance something more personal - for it seems there are those in the army with no intention of springing him from amid the ones and zeros of the source code.

It's all too easy to overlook Jake Gyllenhaal. He's given his acting chops a good old shake on numerous occasions in the past, but with The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and all the interminable rom-coms, it's a zero sum game, with one half of the projects he's involved in dissolving impact of the other. Here again, he proves himself an adequate leading man, heroic yet relatable, bowled-over by the situation but ballsy as all get-out when it counts. To his credit, Gyllenhaal brings to Source Code an energy matched by his support on both sides of the equation: Vera Farmiga as sympathetic middle management in the military, and as Sean Fentress' not-so-significant other the lovely Michelle Monaghan, late of Due Date.

All told, the cast of Source Code equips themselves perfectly well. You could describe them the very same way you could the film as a whole, for that matter: solid, entertaining, but uncomplicated. Unlike director Duncan Jones' stunning debut, Source Code leaves the viewer little to mull over. Between his efforts and those of screenwriter Ben Ripley, the tale is told in its entirety - even beyond its natural stopping point, so unhappy are Source Code's creators to let go these characters while any narrative question marks remain.

It's a shame. Source Code is smart speculative cinema otherwise: it looks the part and feels the part and indeed, it is the part. It's only that the sweetheart part it plays is a markedly different one than I'd expected from the man and the imagination behind Moon, to which Source Code, I'll say, is rather more suited to popcorn. Source Code is ultimately more Minority Report than Blade Runner, and that's... well.

That's fine. But that's all it is, alas, when Moon was so much more.

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