Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review: Source Code

Non Spoiler Review:
Source Code is a thoughtful thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, and Vera Farmiga. Duncan Jones (Moon) directs. Waking up from an apparent nap, Colter Stevens finds himself among a Chicago commuter train full of passengers, which isn't too extraordinary but for the fact he should be in Afghanistan leading his men. It's quickly made apparent he's part of a clandestine project to insert him back in time on a doomed train about to be destroyed by a terrorist bomb in eight minutes. The Source Code continues to send him back to inhabit the body of one of the dead passengers, Sean Fentress, in the hopes he can uncover the bomber's identity and prevent an even larger imminent attack. Flipping between two realities—the repeating sequence of events on the train, and strapped in a compartment with video communication to his real world contact, Goodwin—Colter struggles to figure out what exactly is going on with him and his surroundings.

The interesting ideas explored will likely prompt further discussion, and films like Butterfly Effect and Run, Lola, Run have approached similar themes of reliving the same moment to different results. Source Code manages to keep things interesting enough (always a challenge when replaying the same scenes multiple times), unveiling new pieces of the mystery along the way.

But Source Code doesn't really present anything new. For me, the above films succeed much better in opening up different takes on this science fiction plot. This is not a time travel movie, which is kind of what the trailer makes one think. It's too spoilery to say what it's really about. 

One big flaw is Dr. Rutledge, the scientist in charge of the Source Code project. He is so odious and self-serving that he surpasses the actual terrorist as the movie's villain. It's tedious and frustrating having him and Goodwin keep information from Colter that ultimately agitates and exacerbates the confusion of the protagonist (and his mission). An outright explanation at the beginning would have seemed the most logical course, given time is of the essence as they continually harp into Colter.

The other characters come off better—Gyllenhaal is fine as the dutiful but questioning Colter struggling to figure out what's going on and save Christina, the woman he's growing to care for on the train. Goodwin slowly grows into more of a compassionate officer trying to do her job, yet help her fellow soldier. Aside from Christina and Goodwin, the rest are mostly background props being replayed again and again.

The movie works as a feel good triumph of the human spirit kind of thing. And I will lapse into something sexist and suggest this is a good chick-friendly science fiction date movie with a Hollywood ending. So keep that in mind when measuring your expectations.

If you're a savvy science fiction aficionado with a library of complex films behind you, then you won't find anything new here, so maybe hold out for the DVD. It's a satisfying, uplifting movie—unless your name is Sean Fentress, in which case you're screwed.

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