Saturday, April 2, 2011


"Source Code" (2011)

It all starts with a man on a train. He wakes up unaware of where he is or how he got there. A woman sits across from him and seems to know him but isn't referring to him by the right name. Panicked, he goes into the bathroom and takes a look at his reflection only to see a face looking back at him that is not his own. Moments later the train explodes in flames, and Army pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) awakens again this time in a darkened capsule, something called the source code.

"Source Code" is this year's minimalist "Inception" where traversing dreamscapes is replaced with limited time traveling. Director Duncan Jones returns after his 2009 debut film "Moon"--which I personally thought was a rather stolid and stagnant film--this time with a more superior screenplay from writer Ben Ripley. Together they create a moving and enthralling science fiction thriller that becomes less about the accuracy of the science and much more about the believability and potency of the emotions. The level of complex observation of human nature found in what could've just been tightly-wound ticking time bomb entertainment is unexpectedly welcome and poignant.

In the film's first moments everything is laid out for us. The commuter train to Chicago upon which Colter found himself isn't, technically speaking, real. It did exist, but so did the explosion he experienced which killed everyone on-board. It was a terrorist attack, one to which Colter has been specially assigned to find and identify the bomber therefore preventing a more large-scale attack on the city.

He communicates with an Army scientist named Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) who helps him to understand his mission through the source code, which was invented by Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) who has faith in his experiment. Through source code Colter is able to tap into the consciousness of a victim on the train--the one that resembles him most--while playing out the last eight minutes of the experience on that train before the explosion.

The film mostly consists of Colter's return trips into those last eight minutes. Each one is a little different than the last acting as impressions of what could happen on the train. Each time Colter enters consciousness, a pop can cracks open and fizzes, coffee spills on his shoe and the woman sitting across from him begins a conversation with, "So, I took your advice." The woman is Christina (Michelle Monaghan) who only knows the man Colter is portraying through their frequent trips on the train. No matter the variation of events, the immediacy and frantic urgency of the situation doesn't change. Every time Colter runs out of time before completing his mission, he's sent back in to do it all over again much like "Groundhog Day" where he remembers each previous time before.

The initial plot and vehicle of intrigue for "Source Code" is a contraption, and it's one that frustrates at first but then continually expands and evolves in the character's mind and our own. Suspension of disbelief with the science is necessary but not in the film's understanding and expression of human longing and desire. There's a depth to Jake Gyllenhaal's performance as Colter that gives us reason to believe that him falling in love with a fake projection of a real woman who has already died is actually possible.

Likewise, Michelle Monaghan is radiant and lovely finding room to breathe within a role that really only allows her to repeat lines and seem bewildered. Jeffrey Wright is effective as the man who essentially becomes the mad scientist of the operation while Vera Farmiga is absolutely convincing as a woman who shifts her perspective from severe disciplined operation to sympathy and compassion.

"Source Code" works hard and fast--like Colter at its center--doing a lot within a brisk 94 minutes. It shares an entire riveting journey inside crazy metaphysics but, even more, inside the fragility of the human condition with a thought-provoking and powerful grace note at its conclusion.

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