Source Code is as frustrating as Sucker Punch. The thing is Sucker Punch is frustrating because it’s a piece of juvenile trash. Source Code, by contrast, is intelligent, and frustrates in a positive way, challenging the audience to keep up with the time-shifting shenanigans that see Jake Gyllenhaal transplanted into the body of another man on a doomed Chicago commuter train.
Gyllenhaal is Captain Colter Stevens, who is being ‘used’ (more like manipulated) to suit the needs of a military computer program named the Source Code. By taking over the body of a man named Sean Fentress, Stevens is tasked with finding the bomb that earlier in the day blew up the train on which Fentress was travelling, killing him and everyone else on-board. By finding the bomb and identifying the bomber, Stevens can help prevent another imminent attack that will kill millions more in Chicago itself. The rub is, Stevens can only do so for the last eight minutes of the man’s life, and is told that he is unable to change the past even while saving the future.
As confidently realised by Moon director Duncan Jones (aka Zowie Bowie), Source Code is a riveting, highly entertaining mixture of ticking clock thriller, philosophical conundrum and romantic drama. Boosted by an energetic, likeable performance from Gyllenhaal (much better suited to this kind of edgy material than dull nonsense like Prince of Persia), it’s a first-class example of a smart, mainstream blockbuster, the likes of which will hopefully become more prevalent in the wake of Inception. Gyllenhaal is excellent at putting a compassionate face on a techie premise, and sells Stevens’ dilemma brilliantly. Is he a mere cog in a machine? Is it foolhardy or brave to attempt to go back and prevent incidents which have a pre-destined path? Is there such a thing as a pre-destined path in the first place?
Jones and scriber Ben Ripley admirably keep these balls rolling in the air throughout, and events are lent an extra sense of urgency by Chris Bacon’s choppy, tense score. As Stevens’ handler back at base, Vera Farmiga brilliantly conveys an increasing sense of sympathy, impressive considering much of her role is through close-ups on computer screens. Jeffrey Wright gets the token mad scientist role complete with ambiguous accent and beard, and Michelle Monaghan does what she can in the role of Fentress’ girlfriend, a character who becomes ever more important to Stevens as we rattle down the tracks towards the conclusion.
Ah, yes, the conclusion. Without giving anything away (it’s truly one of those movies where only the basic premise needs to be outlined), it’ll likely result in two camps: those who will be frustrated and confused having put their faith in the first two acts; or those who will revel in the bewildering array of contradictions and impossibilities that suddenly spring up.
Whichever side of the fence one comes down on, it can’t be argued that the film confuses because it’s stupid. Instead, it baffles because it’s intelligent, because it wants the audience to engage with the concerns of the narrative, because it wants them to have paid attention from the start. There’s nothing wrong with that, and never once is it didactic or boring. It’s the first movie for quite some while where you’ll go: ‘I need to see that again’.ï»¿ï»¿ï»¿
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