Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Source Code (2011)

Source Code is an emotional drama masked as a sci-fi thriller. On the surface it appears to be about a man who basically time travels back to the same spot over and over again in an effort to prevent a bomb from decimating the city of Chicago. Each time he finds himself inhabiting the body of a man he’s never met, on a train 8 minutes from exploding. Soon he’ll realize he’s plugged into The Source Code, a magical mystery device that allows him to access the last 8 minutes of someone’s memory.

Somehow, while in this memory, he’s allowed to move around independently, go places this man has never gone, and possibly change the future. It’s an utterly absurd and unexplained movie device; a Groundhog’s Day meets The Matrix approach to the war on terrorism. If you try hard enough, you might be able to convince yourself that the “science” of the film works. It doesn’t. And it doesn’t really matter.

It’s really about Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), a chopper pilot from Afghanistan working his way through a maze of adventures, politics and relationships, searching for answers both physical (who planted the bomb?) and meta (who is Captain Colter Stevens?).

Relatively new writer Ben Ripley keeps the pressure on both quests, never slowing down to allow us to question the sci-fi or the world he establishes. Director Duncan Jones (helmer of 2009’s little seen, but largely enjoyed Moon) guides us with a steady hand, accentuating the Hitchockian everyman within Ripley’s story with an enjoyable and intense communal atmosphere. He enlists composer Chris Bacon to invoke the grandmaster via strings and sharps, while encouraging Gyllenhaal to highlight the absurdity of the situation (the actor brings the same dangerous spark he used so well in 2001’s Donnie Darko).

At the same time Gyllenhall keeps his hero down to earth, grounded by the promise of his relationship with the girl sitting across from him (Michelle Monaghan) and the strain of his disconnection from his father (Scott Bakula). He’s a man in an impossible situation, working for imperial military operators (Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright) demanding absolute success. Simply put, he is accessible – a hero cut from the fabric of vicarious cinematic forefathers.

Ripley and Jones use a variety of tricks to keep our attention, unraveling the multiple mysteries of their interwoven plot with a ticking time bomb pace. But it’s the accessibility of Captain Stevens (and Gyllenhaal’s charismatic performance in that role) that make Source Code work.

This is a film in which we are not to think but feel. You aren’t supposed to solve the mystery yourself. And if you start poking at the story too much, the whole darned movie might deflate.

You’re meant only to enjoy the ride. And Source Code’s a pretty good ride.


The Bru said...

I've been meaning to see this. Great review.

The Bru said...

Just saw it and I agree completely.

Amy said...

I think I'm the only one who didn't like this as much as I wanted to. First off I figured out who the bomber was in the first 5 mins, so that was a bummer. Secondly and way more importantly, I was too caught up in the plot holes to be taken away on the ride. First off, why would they spend so much time creating source code with so many lives riding on it for them not to give him more information in the beginning? Why, cause story structure dictates that you syphon info slowly. But if you want him to be successful on his mission... give him more info! Secondly, this guy is a celebrated Captain that led groups of men on several missions. We are to believe he is very good at his job. And yet, he has 8 minutes to save millions of people and all he cares about is calling his dad and saving the girl. It takes him several tries in the code before he starts taking it seriously. A real captain would be a tiny bit more on task.

Ok, that was my rant. I did enjoy the film in other ways for sure. I actually really enjoyed Vera's performance, she was solid.

DubMC said...

I too picked out the bomber pretty quickly, but I know many people did not, so I can't hold it against the film. They did what they needed to do, in terms of establishing our relationship with the bad guy and pointing him out in such a way that we're able to register him as a suspect. If anything I think the problem is a lack of comparative suspects - aside from the racial profiling bit, there's really no one else to consider.

And as Jess pointed out, why does this guy think throwing his wallet on a train that's gonna be blown to bits will make people think he was on it? Why do people NEED to think he was on it? It's a manipulative trick... and frankly, so is the whole movie. But I generally found the trickery effective in a fun blockbuster-y way.

AS for Colter's reaction to the situation... give the guy a break! This has got to be the most dissorienting thing he's ever experience. I'm not sure he'd just switch into hero soldier mode cause that's what he's supposed to do.

You're also simplifying the "all he cares about is the girl" thing. The call to his father isn't his primary function, and (SPOILER) is only made when he's caught the bad guy already. The rest of the time it's just a quick beat, or an understandable desire for somebody who a.) thinks he's in a training simulator or b.) thinks he's dead.

You're acting as if he ISN'T trying to save people, and is instead just tryin to save one girl. Really he's very active in trying to find the bomb.

Anyway, your issue with "creating source code" stems from their lack of explanation as to what exactly it is, and how it works. They didn't create the train and the people on it, or spend any time on the details like that. They just put Colter in some dude's brain and allowed him to work from those memories... or something. It is utterly ridiculous, but I think for a different reason than the one you state :-)

I thought the holes were glaring but the fun was real, and ultimately that's all I cared about.

There. My rant is longer than yours ;-P

Amy said...

Love the response back!

And yeah, to be fair, I don't hold it against the film that I pegged the bomber.

My problem still remains that Stevens was thrown into his mission with no details. And I DO know how source Code works. I didn't mean that they spent time re-creating the train and the details, etc. I meant the time it took to come up with the concept of being able to have brain on brain action not to mention the enormous amount of time it must have taken to implement such a gradiose idea along with Gov. approvals and Gov. money and finding the exact right situation to utilize all that.

I don't even discount that brain on brain action like this is impossible in the world of the film. I just mean that all they had to go through to actually have a working model of the concept only to give the guy NO info really hindered me. I mean, right off the bat say: Capt. Stevens, I know you are confused as to what has happened. There is very little time for a full explanation, but you need to know that the train you were on was bombed and that if you can't figure out who the bomber is, they will be blowing up millions of people in the city of Chicago in less than 20 minutes. Millions of American's lives are at risk.

Instead, they waited until several times after he went in to even tell him about the bigger bomb and high stakes. This felt scripty and manipulative. That's all I'm saying.

And yeah, the call to his dad happened at the end and it was about more than the girl.

I just think the combo of lack of info and his inability to be fully on task and trust his superiors was irritating.

I read something about it today that said: "Revolving around a soldier who must inhabit an avatar in order to find the culprit of a terrorist attack, the narrative begins veering off track midway through, as we realize that the film isn’t so much about solving the mystery of the attack as it is about our soldier figuring out his own predicament –- he has not yet had his mission fully explained to him."

That about sums it up.

Even after all I said, I did find it a fun movie. :)

The Bru said...

Hey, you guys!

DubMC said...

I'm glad YOU know how the source code works, Amy, cause I still have no idea.

Anyway, your "lives riding on it" terminology regarding a movie about a train threw me :-)

Your right, it is "scripty", and I thought that was actually a positive. The way they controlled the flow of information was masterful, even if the information itself wasn't always great. It was just that kind of movie. Sort of like THE GAME.

I really think that, had they explained the situation to Colter as you just did, it would really bump the audience. Information overload, if you will. They wanted to ease in, not just ram it in (hey-oh?)

I get what you're saying re: Colter - you wanted the hero to be more capable, and more hero, and expected him to be such, because of the character description they provided. He COULD have been more Die Hard. But I'm glad he wasn't. I thought that made him more interesting, and accessible as a character.

Anyway, I didn't like the movie as much as it seem like I did. I have a feeling we're actually pretty close to the same page.

DubMC said...

Hey Bru!~


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