Wednesday, 6 April 2011

'Source Code' Review

'Source Code' (dir: Duncan Jones, 2011), Cert: 12A




Imagine if Alfred Hitchcock and Harold Ramis decided to make a movie? On paper, it doesn’t really sound like it would work. You’d probably end up with Chevy Chase running round like a madman trying to capture Tippi Hedren - But if you were to mould two of their pictures together, it would start to look something like this. British director Duncan Jones stepped out of his father’s (David Bowie) heavy shadow with his outstanding debut feature ‘Moon’ (2009) and now he’s back and in Hollywood with ‘Source Code’; the Sci-Fi Thriller that echoes ‘Strangers on a Train’ (1951) and ‘Groundhog Day’ (1993), but this film is much more than a cocktail of past great pictures; ‘Source Code’ is it’s own picture, and a mighty fine one at that.
 On the morning commuter train to Chicago, a man wakes up on board but not in his own body; Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is that man. Not knowing why he is on board, or why a young woman called Christina (Michelle Monaghan) is referring to him as ‘Sean Fentress’, he is confused and perplexed by his bizarre scenario. Eight minutes into his journey, a deadly bomb detonates killing everyone on board. Stevens then wakes up to find himself in a pod being instructed by Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) who informs him of his mission; he must find the bomb and the bomber before he strikes again. Stevens has been programmed into the ‘Source Code’; a highly experimental military computer programme that allows somebody to return to the past for the last eight minutes of someone’s life in order to prevent acts of terror. Stevens must battle his confusion and frustration, and use the ‘Source Code’ to go back onto the train in order to complete his mission and save the woman who he’s fallen for.
 Creating good Science Fiction must be a British thing nowadays; it seems the British are able to tackle the US in this field and win over audiences in a flash. Christopher Nolan’s ‘Inception’ is the obvious choice and apart from it being the best film of last year, and probably of recent times, it proved that films don’t have to ‘dumb down’ in order to maintain and entertain an audience. Jones clearly has the same mentality because ‘Source Code’ is not only gripping and exciting, it’s also intelligent. The film explodes with style and substance, both in equal measure; Its CGI is sparse but breathtaking; especially a wonderful ‘slo-mo’ sequence which ignites the screen in colour and emotion, the film’s narrative is fluent, pr├ęcised and sure-footed, and it’s tension and atmosphere is so apparent, it’s almost visual.
 ‘Source Code’ achieves what many films cannot; a central idea that’s compelling and intriguing within itself enabling Jones to run with it without boring or misleading the viewer. Much like ‘Groundhog Day’, the sets are limited and the scenarios play out with tiny differences each time, but like Ramis’ masterpiece, each time is more exciting and more involving, the only difference here is the comedy is replaced with solid drama. The film’s tense nature is only heightened by Chris Bacon’s score which pounds and trembles throughout making this train ride incredibly exciting – who knew people spilling coffee and nattering on phones could be so effecting?
Still from 'Source Code' (dir: Duncan Jones, 2011)
 Also at the film’s core is a really charming and sincere romance which warms the hearts of the viewer. We never find out too much about Christina, but she is a beautiful and charismatic woman and her relationship to Stevens/Fentress is an engaging one. To be able to make a swooning romance in the middle of a Sci-Fi Thriller that deals with issues of free-will, terrorism and certain death is certainly up there on the ‘How would that ever work’ list, but Jones pulls it off with such cool that it seems utterly effortless. He certainly is a filmmaking prodigy and he’s landing back on the ground running with this one; I hope he doesn’t change his tune because his Sci-Fi is refreshing and essential to modern cinema. For me, this tops ‘Moon’ and I think he’s raised the bar highly for himself and indeed other filmmakers.
 The performances are knockout all round; Gyllenhaal is one of my favourite actors as I frequently exclaim and he is wonderful as Colter/Sean. His performance is like a bull to a red rag; at first timid and nervous, but suddenly ferocious and powerful. It’s a grand screen presence and he dominates the picture - He’s tremendous. Monaghan is also fabulous as Christina and as I previously mentioned, although we don’t find out lots about her, Monaghan runs with the content she’s given and presents a fantastic and controlled performance. Farmiga is always great and she doesn’t disappoint her either; Goodwin is a strong-presented but warm-hearted woman who feels for Stevens but orders him to continue his mission. Considering the majority of her screen time is through a monitor in his pod, she swallows the scene. Jeffrey Wright also stars and gives a determined and tough performance as the ‘Source Code’ creator, Dr. Rutledge.
 If you are expecting a Michael Bay mega-festival of pyrotechnics and mayhem then ‘Source Code’ won’t deliver, but if you are looking for a calculated and efficient Thriller that gets the pulse racing and the knuckles whitening, then climb on board right now. Jones has survived the ‘second film’ syndrome with ease and I think this is going to be very tough to top.
 ‘Source Code’ is a relentless, time-switching and nerve-shredding roller-coaster ride that will thrill and excite audiences, as well as keeping them on their toes so you’d better keep up because this movie won’t wait around for you. If you see one movie this Easter, make it this one.
Complex, genius and above all, totally brilliant. Sorry ‘True Grit’, I think you’ve been overtaken; ‘Source Code’ is probably my favourite film of 2011 so far.
By Chris Haydon

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