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Source Code

Duncan Jones’ Moon was easily one of the films of 2009, so expectations for this were very high. Then Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian gives it the ‘five star’ treatment amidst giddy exclamations as to it being ‘brainy’. What a critic seems to suggest in using words such as (but particularly ‘brainy’ – even more than ‘thinking persons’) ‘brainy’ in relation to a film is that a) they are brainy for understanding it, b) it’s philosophical in some way, c) it’s impenetrable and they can’t be bothered unpicking it or d) they possibly didn’t even watch it due to perceptions of b) or c) and are unwilling to leave themselves open to concessions of failure.

Source Code concerns depressively kiddie-faced Jake Gyllenhaal as porn-monikered hero Colter Stevens, who awakes on a train opposite Michelle Monaghan, disorientated and bereft as to what on earth he’s doing there, what she’s talking about and why she seems to be intimately acquainted with him. By the time he’s grumpily interrogated her and noticed he’s definitely not who he thinks he is in a toilet mirror, his first ‘sequence’ on the train is interrupted by an explosion and he snaps back to more familiar war-torn environs and a state of injured repose. A flickering TV screen plays a card sequence which soon makes way for Vera Farmiga in military get-up. Farmiga seems initially disquieted by his state of mind, calms a bit when he blurts the card sequence chronologically and we’re soon hurled back into the initial train scenario with a directive (‘find the bomb’) but no real sense of order or understanding as to why him, to what end and under what circumstances. We’re lost and the only means of comprehension lie in blank instruction, which he follows.

He finds it, is fireball-flung back to ruptured colloquy with Farmiga and is soon armed with further clues as to what’s going on. Stevens is eventually led to understand: he exists in a perpetually barely-alive state and is being recurrently ‘dropped in’ to the last eight minute patches of a physically similar passenger’s life – in this case, a character named Sean Fentress – in order to avert linked disasters by sleuthing for crucial information before the ‘Source Code’ expires and a rewind is necessitated. The preposterously overblown Jeffrey Wright reluctantly fills him in on the mechanics of it as Farmiga visibly wilts as to its ethics, and Gylenhaal faces some not-as-interesting-as-they-might-be-race-against-time dilemmas. He engages in a spot of extra-curricular investigative work of his own and discovers his desperate fate before a relatively apt, fairly stirring finale.

The film is not particularly ‘brainy’, it has to be said, on an even provocatively speculative level. It offers an interesting premise, but doesn’t really ask any interesting questions of the audience, either technically or philosophically, and is not one of the more interesting films to meddle with concepts of time or mortality. Unless, ‘Don’t you wish you’d patched it up with Dad?’ strikes you as visionary. It is emotive when you expect it to throw you a scientific curveball and low-dimensionally scientific when you imagine something of curious, knotty import is imminent. In other words, it gets the mix slightly wrong; it over-establishes the human element and doesn’t throw you enough boffinry to mull over. Heck, it just isn’t compulsive or mindbending enough. There’s at least one launch back onto the train that elicits a bit of a ‘Pfffft’ response. Only once matters draw to a resolution (which, happily, isn’t quite as pat as you might be expecting) can you allow retrospective slack for some of the lag within the film. There are moments here that should, at the time, be pulsating and white-knuckle and somehow manage not to be. And you won’t be losing sleep over imminent carnage, as it’s already happened: and then happens again.

Source Code, then, has some momentum and is engaging enough, though, as mentioned, does seem to drag, particularly in the middle third when, I suggest, the scriptwriter was figuring out how to fuse his rather good opening and finale. Gyllenhaal, Farmiga and particularly Monaghan cleverly switch between grave and humoured, though I’d suggest ‘they’ send Colter back to the Source Code set and terminate Jeffrey Wright’s involvement, derailing as he does every single scene he gets near with his spectacularly misjudged turn. Director Jones, interviewed in Empire recently, suggested that, ‘…if you have a good cast then I believe you should let them get on with it.’ I think, for anyone witnessing Wright’s Orson-Welles-impersonator-on-crack escapades here, you’d have to take issue with what’s either weak direction or poor casting. Intervention was needed, in any case. Wright’s amateur-hour-cartoon-baddie delivery should’ve been neutered with extreme prejudice, as it nearly ruins the entire film. But not quite: this is still good fun – just quell hopeful thoughts of Philip K Dick meets John Woo beforehand.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. April 9, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    I’ve been really cautious with this film. I loved ‘Moon’; but the trailers for this don’t make it seem like my kinda thing at all. I think I’m gonna have to go and see it now though!

  2. April 11, 2011 at 7:49 am

    I think your caution serves you well! It’s a bit of a Bruckheimer after an IQ pill kind of thing: but it is worth watching – no doubt. You just feel, with the premise, so much more could’ve been done. And it’s nowhere near as good as Moon – despite Jones touching on similar issues at times.

  3. April 13, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    I’m looking forward to this as a moderately smart-ish action flick. That’s not quite what I was hoping for from the director of Moon, but for an SF film that already sadly puts it in the upper quartile most likely.

    Moon is in my view a classic of SF cinema.

  4. April 16, 2011 at 8:53 am

    Totally agree, Max. Sadly, SC is nowhere near such grand standards, but as you say, the SF pickings are indeed slim. It’s well worthy a go.

  5. April 25, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    “Moon was easily one of the films of 2009.”

    Yes, it certainly was. 😛

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