Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Source Code (2011) – Review

Source Code is a good sci-fi action thriller that despite having seemingly ridiculous science behind it still works on an engagingly emotional level. Director Duncan Jones has a ton of sub genres to play with as the film develops. The capsule that Colter Stevens (the main character) inhabits is run down and decrepit, reminding viewers a lot of Sam Bell’s space station residence in Moon (Jones’s last film). The capsule environment mixed with the science of the film generates a feeling of a sci-fi atmosphere to the film. While, the score that opens the film has a sort of nostalgic Hitchcockian thriller feel to it, evoking emotions related to a mystery that the audience will participate in solving, along with the main character. And then, there is a romantic angle that develops as well. Jones mixes these three elements together very well, sprinkling in good action set pieces, resulting in an interesting and gripping film. The film does require that the audience pay attention – it is not overly complicated, but some thinking and understanding of what is going on certainly will help with the full appreciation. At its core, there are two mysteries, which at times are counterproductive – straining viewers more interested in the reconciliation of one more so than the other. The primary mystery is who bombed the train and how, but Colter Stevens ending up on the train opens up a lot of conceptual and philosophical questions that can distract from the principal goal (both for the character and the viewer) which makes the film a bit tedious at times. However, it has a fantastic ending that brings together both mysteries in a satisfying way (at least I thought so), resolving a number of the narrative structure issues. However story wise (and maybe even structurally as well), the film can feel a little derivative, as there are elements that feel a lot like other films (like: Groundhog Day, The Matrix, among others). But, many good and bad films reference and even steal ideas from past films, and for me this does not take away from the film at all. It is difficult, especially for well versed directors and writers, not to be influenced by great films (and I would even go as far as to say that filmmakers that have a strong knowledge of past great films and filmmakers cannot help but be influenced by their favorites and make better films as a result of it). What is also wonderful about this film is that it very easily could have been a throwaway entertaining action film (and there would be nothing wrong with that), but Jones took it as an opportunity to look at fate versus free will (much like The Adjustment Bureau earlier this year). The science is preposterous (or so it seems, but what do I really know about it), and in being so anything can happen. This allows Jones’s Colter Stevens to go head-to-head against the past and try to change fate, which garners most of the emotional impact of the film and makes Source Code great, instead of merely good or ok.

Technical and acting achievements: now two films in, Duncan Jones is certainly establishing himself as a director to watch. Moon is probably a more interesting character piece than Source Code, which for many film fans will endear it more to them, but Source Code is a different type of film. It is not so much about the characters (though they are given enough development to captivate the audience) as it is about the struggle to solve the mystery. I, for one, look forward to what Jones does next. Chris Bacon’s score is a bit uneven. The opening piece is fantastic, calling back to classic mysteries and thrillers. But, the rest of the score felt a little too generic to really stand out. D.P. Don Burgess does a good job shooting the film. There are quite a few images that have very interesting and exciting composition (I particularly liked the shot of Colter and Christina sitting/kneeing as the bomb explodes behind them). Paul Hirsch’s editing is also very good (which it needed to be) transitioning between the very kinetic world of the train and the dull decay of the capsule. Barry Chusid’s production design is good too. His sets are pretty standard for the genre and story, but his capsule feels just right (given what we learn about it as the story moves forward). Lead Jake Gyllenhall is good in his role (but I feel the film could have been much better with a stronger and more charismatic performance, one that the audience could really relate to in a deeper way). Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright are both excellent in their supporting roles, bringing a lot of character to not much screen time. And, Michelle Monaghan is superb as well. She is able to really bring the audience in and make them care with her sweet smile. She also gives the film a much needed release with a more light hearted and slightly comedic tone.

Source Code works as an action thriller, but it is even better due to its philosophical elements. 8/10

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