Like many film nerds, I was taken aback by Moon, a high concept/low budget science fiction movie starring Sam Rockwell as a miner on Earth’s satellite that may or may not be crazy. This was the feature debut of Duncan Jones, the son of famous musician David Bowie, and it instantly made him a “director to watch.” Two years later, Jones returns with his follow-up Source Code, with a higher budget and a bigger cast. His previous no-frills vision has been upped to mainstream scope. In fact, this is vastly different, which is a testament to Jones and his ability to make movies that aren’t similar to one another. Unfortunately, it sacrifices much of its brain to make way for a broader appeal, causing some to be put off.
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Captain Colter Stevens, an Air Force pilot who has been tasked with the mission to find out the identity of a bomber responsible for a commuter rail explosion in Chicago hours before. This isn’t just any normal mission, however; instead of just trying to investigate facts, the Government has found a way to transport Stevens into the body of a man who died on that very train by using a “source code.” This code puts Stevens in the body of a history teacher for the last eight minutes of his life, inside the train with the ability to search it himself. Although his mission is clear cut, there’s a snag; Stevens begins to have feelings for Christina (Michelle Monaghan), who happened to be a good friend of his surrogate. Soon enough not only is he trying to find the identity of the bomber, but he’s also looking for a way to save Christina and stop the bomb himself. Naturally, his superiors (a commander named Goodwin played by Vera Farmiga and the mysterious and nameless creator of the “source code” played by Jeffrey Wright) are not okay with this, but when love’s involved, what’s a little messing with the space time continuum matter? Am I right, ladies?
Despite essentially replaying the same scenario over and over, Source Code is entertaining as hell, on par with most of the tentpole blockbusters that get shoved down our throats every summer. Unlike those movies however, this one is not only entertaining in an action sense, but it also works the brain and contains some good acting. Gyllenhaal’s character is the only one with any real meat to it and he’s plays it beautifully; heroic in the right spots and empathetic when the time calls for it. One can’t help but root for him through the whole movie. He commands the screen and the role, and as much as I hate to admit it, he was great. Really great.
Acting-wise, everyone else is definitely good, but their characters are just parsley on the Gyllenhaal plate. Farmiga’s Goodwin is the only other player with an actual arc, and she uses her natural talent to make something of it. However, there’s little there other than empathizing and sitting. Monaghan continues her streak of playing female characters that lack a personality/an arc and are just there for the main character to get involved with (like Due Date but this time, more involved). She’s charming in the role, and I understand why Stevens would fall for her (even if it IS a little quick), but there’s just nothing really there. It’s a shame too, she’s not the worst actress on the planet. As for Wright, who is essentially the second villain besides the bomber, it depends from scene to scene. He has some truly horrendous lines to deliver, but he’s not letting it get him down. He performs them with gusto and enough commitment to make his role interesting, if brief. I wanted more banter between him and Gyllenhaal, their conflict was an engaging diversion.
Source Code is an Hitchcockian mystery with a science fiction edge, and you’ll find yourself drawn into the mission.Even though it’s the same setting done many times over, there are enough quirks and differences to keep it interesting, especially when Stevens veers off the game plan and starts trying to save people. Just a fair warning: if you’ve watched a lot of movies, you’ll know instantly who the bomber is so the “surprise” isn’t really effective.
As a whole, Source Code is a fun piece of entertainment that fuses enough heart and originality to make sure it sticks out once it’s released nationwide. This is Gyllenhaal’s best performance in a long time and he plays one hell of a sympathetic hero. But that’s how it should be treated as: entertainment. Anyone looking for another Moon, look elsewhere.
Source Code premiered at SXSW and will hit theaters April 1st, 2011.
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