Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Weeks Too Late: Source Code

Source Code. Directed by Duncan Jones & Written by Ben Ripley.

Preconceptions: I loved Jones' last movie. Moon was easily the best Sci-Fi (or Sy-fy, if you will-I know I won't) flick I'd seen last year. It actually remains at the top of the heap for this year as well and I've been anxiously anticipating the sequel. I didn't know much about Source Code, but I was pleased to hear Jones had done another film (though he hadn't written this one).

General Review: Overall, I was surprised by how ambivalent I was towards Source Code (and irritated because "meh" makes for a fairly lame review). Oh it was competent, certainly, and the bulk of my complaints are minor. But even though it isn't entirely fair to judge this by the merits of Moon (its older brother), I couldn't help but make comparisons. Moon made a strong impact on me, whereas Source Code simply didn't. Moon was interesting both as Sci-Fi and as character based drama, sure there was some of that in Source Code but not enough to fill its run time.

Before I go further, a plot summary: Jake Gyllenhaal plays Coulter Stevens, an Army pilot. He is part of an experiment that allows him to live the same 8 minutes of someone else's life over and over again. He can't change anything that actually happens in the past, just relive it. Vera Farmiga (as Goodwin) is the military scientist running the test with Jeffery Wright (Dr. Rudledge) supervising.

Despite my tepid reaction to Source Code there were two shining lights of success (do success lights shine? What the hell is a success light anyways?). The first was the fact that the main character picks up what is happening to him quickly. We don't spend hal
f the movie explaining concepts that are going to be understood early on by the audience. I like a movie that assumes I can keep up and that I know the Sci-Fi basics. Not being talked down to was a pleasant surprise. Secondly, it managed to keep my interest sharp even though we spent most of the movie reliving the same 8 minutes. Most movies that try this, no matter how skillfully they execute it, leave me feeling irritated and bored. The flashbacks were distinct enough from each other that my focus didn't wander. The visual and dialogue shorthand that reminded me that we were in the 8 minute period was varied and quick. I haven't been this won over by this sort of story telling since Run Lola Run.

The acting, like so much else in Source Code was adequate overall. Gyllenhaal and Farmiga were alright. They played the roles that were in front of them without dragging them down, but also without any real spark. I felt that Farmiga could have been tougher. We were meant to believe that she and Gyllenhaal shared a Brotherhood of Soldiers type connection. This was the reason for her going against orders and helping him when she could. Instead, it came off as a more motherly/sisterly desire to nurture. So, we ended up with one more example of a chick ruining her career because of her emotions, though to give Source Code credit, it wasn't due to romantic feelings. Oh, speaking of the love interest: zzzzz. There sure was one, I guess. Wright's portrayal of a callous, but genius scientist was one of the weaker performances. Again, not exactly bad, but unlayered and shallow.

The writing and the directing were both okay with dashes of excellent. Again, it was the pacing and the cleverness of the two that kept the movie from becoming stale. Shooting the same thing over and over again but keeping it fresh isn't easy and it's a credit to Jones and Ripley that they were successful in this. But their talents seemed wasted on such a bland final product. The action was bloodless and the resolution (which I won't give away, but prepare to be Battlestar Galactica'd) was pat.

Don't mistake me, Source Code isn't Priest. You won't regret that you'd even heard of it. However, you just won't still be thinking of it the next day. In fact, I'd be surprised if you think much about it after you turn it off. It's an alright sort of flick to watch while you're doing the ironing (if you've run out of podcasts) but not something worth running out to see. It's inoffensive, and has a few bright points, but is entirely disposable. If you're hungry for some reasonable Sci-Fi, you won't be disappointed, but don't expect more from Source Code.

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