Friday, April 1, 2011

Source Code - A Review

First, a tweet-length review:

Source Code is an achievement of tight filmmaking, inspired acting, gorgeous cinematography, and gripping ideas. (112 characters)

Now the cumbersome review:

I'm leery writing this review because the best part about Source Code, as it was with Duncan Jones's previous masterpiece, Moon, is how we as the viewer walk side by side with Jake Gyllenhaal through the mysteries of the movie.  Learning as he learns.  Being surprised as he is.  Succeeding with him, and celebrating the ending right along with him.  All this without cumbersome 3D glasses and popping special effects to put us right in the moment.  It's what filmmaking should be about.  Real, honest engagement between the viewer and filmmakers.

As it is, the rest of this review is going to be full of spoilers because telling you much beyond what's in the trailer would break the fragile bond that makes this movie special.

Here's the premise:  A commuter train (cleverly CGI'ed to not be the Metra) is bound north to Chicago.  The train blows up and kills everyone on board.  This is apparently a warning shot from a terrorist who has designs to do something even worse (level Chicago).  Using a secret government program, The Source Code, Captain Colter Stevens is sent back to 8 minutes before the disaster into the mind of one of the passengers on the train, and in a way that is Deja Vu meets Groundhog's Day meets Vantage Point meets a point-and-click adventure the captain is supposed to explore the train for 8 minutes and figure out who the terrorist is, and what his motives are.  This is only a simulation of the events, so he can't change the outcome, can only explore and interact(?) with the world, and try to find clues before...BOOM!  Or is there something more? (This is a Duncan Jones movie if you remember).

Between each 8 minute permutation he's whisked back to this Source Code capsule where he's debriefed by Goodwin, an officer played by Vera Farmiga who acts as his handler, and as our guide for introducing us to the mysteries of what the Source Code is, and what Captain Stevens' mission is.  Disoriented and disillusioned (a classic position for Duncan Jones's characters to be in) Stevens begins to wonder if he can break out of the 8-minute cycle.  More importantly he wonders if he can save the people in there, and more than that save the girl, Christina (Michelle Monaghan), who he wakes up talking to every time he's thrust back into the source code.  The girl who he starts to develop an emotional connection with (as Stevens in the body of one of the commuters).  To say more would be a travesty, even to those looking for spoilers.  Suffice it to say, this is a thriller, and there is a happy ending.

What the Source Code is, is a thinking movie.  Not a mindfuck film.  Not in the same way that Fight Club is a mindfuck, or the Usual Suspects, or anything by Shyamalan for that matter.  The twist, when it comes is surprising, but what is refreshing, and what keeps the movie working as well as it does is that the hero basically says "I don't care," and wrests control of his destiny back into his own hands.  This is what makes Duncan Jones movies so fantastic.  His heroes stare down the crush of the inevitable, the bonds of fate, the insurmountable odds of a deck stacked against them, and say "I don't care," and barrel on with the reckless joy and urgent need to succeed.

Duncan Jones is a master filmmaker who straddles the line between the intricacy and nuance of the "indie" film, and the breathless engagement of the blockbuster.  He can do in an hour and a half what would take Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson, or any other cinema craftsman two or more hours to achieve.  His films are tight, and bursting at the seams with ideas.  What he can bring out of his cast and crew are inspiring performances.

This is exactly why I fell in love with movies.  This is exactly what I keep coming back and hoping to see.  This is exactly why you should go see it.

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