Sunday, April 03, 2011

Source Code: Stranger on a Train, Over and Over Again

Source Code
Directed By: Duncan Jones
Written By: Ben Ripley
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, and Jeffery Wright
Director of Photography: Don Burgess, Editor: Paul Hirsch, Production Designer: Barry Chusid, Original Music: Christ Bacon
Rated: PG-13 for some violence, some language, and a particularly disturbing image.

            Source Code’s opening titles set the tone for a film about serious implications prestened with a certain lightness to it. A science fiction thriller with a complex and eventually disturbing conceit, director Duncan Jones moves his narrative along with a hop and a skip to its rhythm. In these opening titles, Mr. Jones uses dramatic angles from overhead to give us a glimpse of Chicago, as well as the train where most of the film takes place. Using dynamic angles, as well as a score by Chris Bacon that recalls the work of Bernard Hermann, Mr. Jones is clearly bringing us into a Hitchcockian puzzle, with all the fun that comes with it.

            This may come as a surprise to fans of Mr. Jones’ previous film, the enigmatic and quiet Moon, which starred two Sam Rockwells and the voice of Kevin Spacey, isolated on the titular satellite. But the DNA of Mr. Jones’ work is highly apparent in Source Code, even if the script comes from writer Ben Ripley. With its logical obsession, constant twists, and surprising dedication to its characters, Source Code is a fun little film with some big explosions.

            The narrative starts to a jolt as Captain Coulter Stevens, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, suddenly awakes from a nightmare while on a commuter train heading into Chicago. Christina, the woman across with him and played by the ever-lovely Michele Monaghan, seems to know him well, but all Miller remembers is flying helicopters in Afghanistan. When he goes to the bathroom, the mirror reveals not him, but another man named Sean Fentress. Before Miller can find any more information, the train explodes and Miller finds himself locked in an armored cube of a prison, talking to Vera Farmiga via video phone.

            Ms. Farmiga works as part of a special military team as part of a project called Source Code, which allows Stevens to inhabit the last eight minutes of a person’s life. His goal is to find the bomber in the hope they can prevent another bomb planned for downtown later that day. But like all good sci-fi thrillers, something strange is abound. And thus twist after twist lead to a completely different story, not only revelations within the alternate reality of the train sequence that Stevens plays again and again, but also in what the true nature of the Source Code project and its creator, played by a creepy Jeffery Wright.

            Like Moon, Source Code ultimately becomes a narrative about dedicated servants abused by the advancement of technology, but while Moon remained a quiet and melancholic story, Mr. Jones injects a healthy dose of humor and pace to the script. The train sequences are often humorous despite the high stakes, mostly thanks to Mr. Gyllenhaal’s sometimes wacky, though ultimately sympathetic performance. Ms. Monaghan plays ball with Mr. Gyllenhaa’s often eratic behavior, and like Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest, they put us in ease in a situation that could be life and death.

            Mr. Ripley’s script does end up being a little overly complex and absurd where five minutes of thought reveals numerous plot holes, and Mr. Jones’ dedication to a logical approach to science fiction perhaps over explains situations more than we care to know. However, Source Code remains firmly a character driven film, despite the decent sized budget that Mr. Jones works within his framework. The film’s production design, especially the often-changing cube in which Stevens is trapped when outside the Source Code, brings a sense of detail and uniqueness to what could have been a generic film.

            The film’s final act may be too reminiscent of Moon, which also forgoes a real discussion of ethics in favor of our attachment to these characters, but Mr. Jones wants us to have fun in the same sort of way one always walked out of a Hitchcock film with a smile. And for a film that brings a unique premise with a freshness most sci-fi films avoid, Mr. Jones may fit quite comfortably in a studio format for years to come.

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