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Anton Sirius has seen Source Code! Annnnddd...

 

Source Code (2011, directed by Duncan Jones)

We're two films into his career, and it's pretty clear what turns Duncan Jones' crank. Like Moon before it, Source Code uses science fiction trappings to explore humanity's free will and survival instinct. And like Moon, Jones isn't afraid to apply DJ sensibilities to filmmaking, mashing up genres and sampling from the classics to try and create something that is still unmistakably his own.

Unlike Moon, though, Source Code struggles to escape the gravity of those influences, and Jones' voice at times gets lost in the noise. It's hardly what you'd call a sophomore slump - Source Code is entertaining enough, with some interesting ideas and a couple of great supporting performances - but it's not career-defining either. (At least, I hope not).

If Jones gets anything perfectly right, it's the opening minutes of the film. The precredits sequence is flat out great. Over a score that sounds like it's cribbed from a top-notch 70s paranoid political thriller you've never seen, Jones intercuts between swooping aerial shots of Chicago and a commuter train hurtling towards the city. The music, the pacing of the shots, all scream one thing: something capital-b Bad is going to happen.

After that, Jones tosses the audience straight into the deep end of the plot. Jake Gyllenhaal wakes up on the train and finds himself sitting across from a woman (Michelle Monaghan) he doesn't know. In fact he doesn't even know how he got on the train - last thing he remembers, he was piloting a chopper in Afghanistan. The reflection he sees in the window isn't his face, and Monaghan keeps calling him by someone else's name. He's disoriented, angry, very nearly in a blind panic, and then boom.

No, literally, boom. The train blows up, killing everyone aboard. And then after blowing up, Gyllenhaal finds himself back in uniform, locked in a strange capsule with no memory of how he got there either while a different woman on a monitor grills him on the details of what he just saw...

From there, things settle down into a rhythm. Gyllenhaal is part of a covert anti-terrorism initiative trying to thwart the next attack by the train bomber. Through the magic of quantum physics, he's able to re-live the last 8 minutes of the life of one of the train's passengers over and over (and over and over) again, to try and find clues pointing to the identity of the terrorist. As he does so though, and despite being told repeatedly by his superiors that the people upon the train are already dead and that there's nothing he can do for them, Gyllenhaal starts to care about his fellow passengers (especially, of course, the pretty one sitting across from him) and tries to save them as well as complete his mission.

If that sounds like a Frankenstein's monster sewn together from equal parts 12 Monkeys and Groundhog Day, well, that's because it is. But there's a spark created by the collision of those two concepts that propels the film, and the script gives enough credit to the audience's intelligence that it never bogs itself down with exposition, although a large degree of credit for that needs to go to the always awesome Jeffrey Wright. He plays the scientist in charge of the project with a preening intellect that is simply astounding to watch. His one attempt to explain to Gyllenhaal how the project works lasts all of about thirty seconds and simultaneously gives you just enough information to suspend your disbelief while also making it clear how tired he is of dumbing down his genius for lesser minds. It's phenomenal, as is the rest of his performance. Why Wright isn't a bigger star is one of the great mysteries of modern Hollywood.

The other standout performance is Vera Farmiga as the face on the monitor, Gyllenhaal's liaison with the project HQ. Like Gyllenhaal, she finds herself trapped between her orders and basic human decency, but unlike Gyllenhaal her dilemma is a lot less theoretical. She takes what might have been a very jarring transition from ruthless model of military efficiency to bleeding heart, and makes it seem natural and inevitable. It's not a showy performance, but it's a very, very good one.

As for the leads? Well... Monaghan's sweet-natured cutie role is certainly necessary to get you as invested as Gyllenhaal in the fate of the passengers, but it doesn't give her a whole lot to do other than smile and occasionally scrunch up her brow in confusion. And good ole Jake, bless his heart, just doesn't have the over-the-top personality of a Willis or a Cage to really ever become a full-blown Everyman action hero, but in a role like this which is lighter on action and heavier on emoting, he's entirely adequate.

There's one other thing that makes Source Code slightly more than the sum of its parts, and that's its metaphysical underpinnings. Speaking as someone with a great love for pop culture bastardizations of quantum physics, this movie handles the whole 'multiple universes' concept as well as any big Hollywood production I've ever seen. Every time Gyllenhaal goes 'back' to those eight minutes, his choices create a new universe branching out from the old one. Since they all end in the train blowing up anyway (thus collapsing the wave, if you're following this and your eyes didn't glaze over a couple of sentences ago) Wright dismisses any of Gyllenhaal's concerns as nonsense. There's only one 'real' universe, and it's the one Wright is standing in. But as Gyllenhaal keeps pushing the envelope on what he can get done and get away with in those eight minutes, he becomes more and more certain that these universes aren't just shadows of probability, and are just as real as the world he's being sent from. The payoff on it all is really quite well done, even if it does raise some curious moral questions.

In short, Source Code is a fairly well-shot (one unfortunate CGI shot aside), reasonably clever movie with a couple of really good performances. Just so long as you aren't expecting to have your mind blown, it's worth checking out.
 
Anton Sirius 
Twitter: @AntonSirius
Readers Talkback
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  • March 6, 2011, 2:29 p.m. CST

    Remember Seven Days

    by Grammaton Cleric Binks

    This is the 8-minute version.

  • March 6, 2011, 2:36 p.m. CST

    Sounds like DEJA VU

    by HopkinsBalls

    The movie, that is... Which I liked. so also looking forward to this.

  • March 6, 2011, 2:39 p.m. CST

    How about a SPOILER warning? Too hard?

    by Darth Valinorean

    Seriously... if the opening is that good, why spoil it? Or at least have the courtesy to put a spoiler warning on it

  • March 6, 2011, 2:40 p.m. CST

    Yeah, that's about what I expected

    by IndustryKiller!

    It looks just too bogged down in formula to be truly interesting. Also, why is Gyllenhaal insisting to us that he's genre movie guy? He isn't, he kinda bad at it. Prince of Persia and the even worse Love and Other Drugs. It's just not his particular aura. Dude, do some great dramas and in some academy awards (or at least Golden Globes), enough with this nonsense.

  • March 6, 2011, 2:49 p.m. CST

    Could never be as good as Moon

    by HelmetBoy

    Duncan Jones looks like an awesome talent but I didn't really like the look of 'Source Code' to be honest. Looked a bit mainstream and action orientated, but I'll probably check it out. I think a lot of sci-fi is having a tough time at the moment in the shadow of the immensely impressive 'Inception'. I hope Mute will live up to expectations. On a side note, has anyone ever read a book called Altered Carbon? THAT would make a great sci-fi film.

  • March 6, 2011, 3:31 p.m. CST

    I have no interest in this!

    by MainMan2001

    Moon was ok. I couldn't even finish it. It was sooooooo painfully serious and flat out boring. I could careless what happened. For a seriously amazing new sci-fi film check out Solaris.

  • March 6, 2011, 3:39 p.m. CST

    looking forward to this

    by georgecauldron

    by the way the new talkback format sucks

  • March 6, 2011, 3:53 p.m. CST

    So Moon is painfully and flat-out boring...

    by Sardonic

    but Solaris? C'mon, really? I mean I like both movies, but that's just a retarded comment.

  • March 6, 2011, 3:55 p.m. CST

    So you're not a Gyllenhaal fan, eh?

    by Drath

    You like spelling his name out, but you couldn't sound more condescending of him if you tried, dude. Geesh, Donnie Darko has had a hard time with critics since...well since Darko I guess. Even when he played Dick Twist (that was his name, right?) in Brokeback he got by with "he's adequate" kind of remarks. Shit, I think the guy brings more to most movies than deserves that kind of damnation with faint praise--unless we're talking about Rendition.

  • March 6, 2011, 3:59 p.m. CST

    The messiah is dead!

    by Richie

    The poor guys been hyped beyond belief based on one film.

  • March 6, 2011, 4:08 p.m. CST

    Cool

    by Jeff

    Thanks for the well-written review, Anton. I'll be very interested to see "Source Code," even if it falls slightly below "Moon" in the general interest. Then again, maybe it'll smack me upside the head with its observations and military use of quantum physics. Could happen someday soon, I suppose. The "multiverse" theory, coupled with string theory and cutting-edge DARPA engineering, will likely bring about practical applications of such a breakthrough before many non-military players do. Just the nature of the game. Can't wait!

  • March 6, 2011, 4:28 p.m. CST

    Vera Fromunda

    by Itchy

    has a surprisingly perky rack. However, even that won't make me watch a movie staring the obviously gay brother of the trollish sad turtle that everyone in Hollywood tries to brainwash us into thinking is hot.

  • March 6, 2011, 4:54 p.m. CST

    Why expect mind blowing . . . from lamestream movie?

    by kabong

    Look, Mr Bay, I can manage traffic and 'splosions.

  • March 6, 2011, 4:56 p.m. CST

    Why is it positive reviews are called plants but...

    by Andrew Coleman

    Any review that's negative is taken as words from a mesiah? Is that how negative society has become. I knew Source Code never stood a chance here because TBers hated the love Moon got. I just think it's odd when there is a positive review the TB is filled with "It sucks!" or made up stuff like "When I saw it the audience booed". But negative reviews are just accepted as fact. This review wasn't even negative really but you see guys here already claiming Jones and this movie a failure. You haven't seen it yet loser how about you wait to see it before you lay down your brilliant thoughts.

  • March 6, 2011, 4:59 p.m. CST

    Jake Gyllenhaal's engineered career

    by Rupee88

    This guy has an an army of very powerful agents and movie studio guys behind him. I've never seen someone just forced down the public's throat like this dude. Is anyone even a fan of his? Or is the deal to trick the public into thinking that everyone else is? I guess it's working but just especially obvious in this case all the people behind the scenes pulling the strings.

  • March 6, 2011, 5:05 p.m. CST

    so, is Jake Gyllenhaal the bomber...

    by justmyluck

    ...trying to gather evidence for his own conviction? And/or does Jake finally end up as the bomber, and can't break with pre-determination and must blow up the train and his lovey dovey? Seems like, this being like a Twilight Zone episode, its the only ways it can go.

  • March 6, 2011, 5:11 p.m. CST

    I WANT TO SOURCE CODE VERA FARMIGAS ASS

    by GrapeFruit

  • March 6, 2011, 5:15 p.m. CST

    Quantum mechanics

    by justmyluck

    Einstein called it "spooky action from a distance" and I'm likely to believe him. It will be developed for military applications first and, like SkyNet going self-aware, will immediately outwit the human brain and suck us into a black hole for the ultimate mathematical rebirth...zero.

  • March 6, 2011, 5:42 p.m. CST

    c3po

    by Anton_Sirius

    I very deliberately tried not to describe more about the plot than you could reasonably figure out from the ad campaign, and there are a couple of rather big things I left unsaid.

  • March 6, 2011, 5:52 p.m. CST

    and people wanted this one-hit wonder to direct Superman

    by Nerd Rage

    Moon was good but c'mon.

  • March 6, 2011, 6:07 p.m. CST

    Don't you hate when you have an idea for a movie...

    by jimmy_009

    ...then you see it made into an actual movie a year or two later?

  • March 6, 2011, 6:29 p.m. CST

    Wright is black and pudgy - that's Hollywood for you.

    by JuanSanchez

  • March 6, 2011, 6:31 p.m. CST

    sounds like Star Trek: TNG episode

    by LabattsBleu

    where they were stuck in a causality loop and relived it 4 times before figuring out how to change the future...Great episode BTW... I am sure this will be a good, but not do so great at the theaters...

  • March 6, 2011, 8:55 p.m. CST

    Okay

    by Jeff

    Thanks for your opinion, viggeo. You loved a silly insider comment about Vera Farmiga's ass, yet hated two unique and fairly well-received low-budget films. I'm guessing you're a contrarian about most subjects, which is fine. You didn't like "Moon" or "Donnie Darko," okay fine. But your opinion, as written above, is splattered with unfocused hatred that I'm guessing has nothing to do with the films or filmmakers you so articulately annihilated. I hope you have a better day tomorrow.

  • March 7, 2011, 1:56 a.m. CST

    Wavefunction collapse?

    by Happyfat73

    Are there any references to Schrodinger's cat, by any chance?</p> </p> Looking forward to something that treats time travel and quantum possibility in at least a reasonably intelligent fashion.</p> </p> Also, I want to marry Vera Farmiga.

  • March 7, 2011, 2:18 a.m. CST

    2imecop should've been the title.

    by CodeName

  • March 7, 2011, 2:38 a.m. CST

    turd_has_risen_from_the_gravy

    by ewokstew

    What Duncan Jones interview was that? Article or video? Can you provide a source? After seeing the few interviews I have of Jones he doesn't seem the type. If it's true, though, and he did it out of insecurity or arrogance, that would change my view of him a bit. If he did it tongue-in-cheek, not so much. Moon owned my ass. I have lots of grace for this guy.

  • March 7, 2011, 2:45 a.m. CST

    The composer's name is

    by syn_flood

    Chris P. Bacon

  • March 7, 2011, 3:55 a.m. CST

    My spoiler sense is tingling....

    by Righteous Brother

    so I stopped reading. I hope the film is good, and that DJ gets to makes his Blade Runneresque film set in Berlin, he was talking about round about the time Moon was released.

  • March 7, 2011, 7:32 a.m. CST

    JAKE GYLLENHAAL TYPECASTED AS A TIME TRAVELLER

    by Kcolraw

    donnie darko prince of persia source code

  • March 7, 2011, 8:55 a.m. CST

    I enjoyed Moon, but it seems Jones likes to wear his influences on his sleeve

    by openthepodbaydoorshal

    Much like Moon was reminiscent of Silent Running and Outland, this seems reminiscent of Deja Vu and Groundhogs Day and yea, even Timecop (does Jones have a wish to become the next Peter Hyams?). I'm trying to remember how many films I've seen where the protaganist looks in a mirror and sees another face in the reflection...seems like, no pun intended, deja vu.

  • March 7, 2011, 9:21 a.m. CST

    I Can Predict Success from Trailers

    by Aquatarkusman

    It won't do well. Nobody cares about Jake, it looks really generic, the CGI is bad, and I think we as a culture hit time-travel saturation about seven years ago.

  • March 7, 2011, 9:58 a.m. CST

    aquatarkusman - but this will really well mid summer

    by openthepodbaydoorshal

    on video....

  • March 7, 2011, 10:08 a.m. CST

    Moon

    by the new transported man

    I really dig Moon but, watching it again, found myself irritated by a plot hole at its core. The energy company solved the global energy crisis, dominates the energy market, & has a mining operation on the Moon that requires just a single operator. Innumerable company employees must have developed proficiency with the harvesters, network, software, etc. since they presumably developed them to some extent. Cloning an adult human, giving that clone a memory implant, & building & implementing the infrastructure to deploy the clones & maintain the illusion have to be crazy expensive. So how would the use of clones, as opposed to an ongoing training program for replacement operators, really save so much money as to warrant the use of clones & the suspension of ethics? And don't you think that they'd find at least 1 person who'd be stoked to live a lifetime, in solitude, running a mining operation on the Moon? You think there'd be a waiting list.

  • March 7, 2011, 1:15 p.m. CST

    Sounds like DEJA VU

    by ReportAbuse

    All over again.

  • March 7, 2011, 1:55 p.m. CST

    Seriously, PUT THAT SHIT IN SPOILER TAGS!

    by UtopiaComplex

    Asshole. I'm fucking glad I've already seen this or I'd want to slap you. The set up is plenty of info to determine whether or not you'll want to check the movie out.

  • March 7, 2011, 2:04 p.m. CST

    This sounds a lot like Quantum Leap to me

    by SithMenace

    But I really liked Moon, I thought it was really well acted and directed, and I thought the story unfolded really well, so I'll see this. On Blu.

  • March 7, 2011, 3:58 p.m. CST

    oh cool a movie about terrorism

    by WINONA_RYDERS_PUSSY_JUICE

    so at the end of the movie do they find out there's no weapon of mass destruction and it was all a lie ? Fuck this propaganda SHIT. Jake is an idiot for taking this project. It will tank. No one wants to watch this terrorism bullshit.

  • March 7, 2011, 5:55 p.m. CST

    I've seen this...

    by SunTzu77

    It starred Denzel Washington... it was called Deja Vu.

  • March 7, 2011, 8:20 p.m. CST

    sithmenace

    by Anton_Sirius

    Make sure you check the credits after you finally see it...

  • March 7, 2011, 8:24 p.m. CST

    utopiacomplex

    by Anton_Sirius

    If you HAD actually seen it, you wouldn't be whining about spoilers that aren't there.

  • March 7, 2011, 10:25 p.m. CST

    Deja Vu pt. 2

    by The_Myhand

    Seriously.