Sunday, 3 April 2011

Source Code Review

Source Code

Director Duncan Jones’s Moon was released back in 2009, and gained positive reaction from critics and audiences globally. Its story and character(s) were well developed in a setting that created an atmosphere of isolation and claustrophobia. It was an example of the science fiction genre done well. Therefore, I was quite excited and intrigued in his new film, Source Code. After reading various high praising reviews by film critics at the South by Southwest festival (SXSW), and having a story that seemed to be ‘Groundhog Day’  meets science fiction, it seemed to be a ‘must see’. And with the good impression I gained from Moon, I was expecting something special. However while Source Code, is an inventive and entertaining exploration of the ‘sci-fi’ genre, it suffers from underwritten characters, questionable plot routes and has an ending that ultimately ruined my initially positive impression of the film.
Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a train heading to Chicago, but appears to have taken the form of a teacher, Sean Fentress. A period of confusion occurs as he tries to make sense of the world he’s in, who the hell he is? and what he’s doing? After 8 minutes of uncertainty, a bomb detonates which kills everyone on board and destroys the train. Stevens wakes up to find himself locked in a capsule where he is greeted, via computer screen, by Officer Carol Goodwin (Vera Farmiga). She explains that the bomb he experienced had occurred that morning, and that there have been threats of another attack in downtown Chicago. Steven’s mission, subsequently, is to find the bomber on the train by using the ‘Source Code’ technology (a sort of simulation). He therefore repeats the last 8 minutes of Fentress’s life over and over, frustratingly dying each time, in an attempt to find the bomber. However he soon starts to build a romantic relationship with a teacher, Christina (Michelle Monaghan). He also begins to believe that he has the ability to save the lives on the train, against Dr Rutledge’s (Jeffrey Wright) ‘questionable’ explanation of his own invention. 
The story feels unique, and is interestingly constructed. The initial tension during the 8 minutes before the inevitable explosion is exciting. However like the rest of the plot, it quickly fades and falters. The final act really reveals the film's problems and it soon losses its focus and ‘stability’. The build up of the ‘total destruction’ of Chicago, which is the main focal point of the film suddenly ends, switching for Stevens’ desperate attempt to change the past, typical of ‘time-meddling’ flicks. Yet, what is inexcusable is the ending to Source Code. I am not going to spoil it, but I feel that the executives in ‘Hollywood’ had a massive say in Jones’s plot. What I mean is the tendency of major films to finish on a ‘happy’ and rounded conclusion that leaves the audience with a sense of gratification, pleasure or bliss. While, it works in some films, Source Code gives various and obvious instances at which Jones could have ended the film, whilst still having an upbeat ending. In fact, the actual ending, rather than tying up the ‘loose ends’, just adds more questions that are left unanswered, and doesn’t make sense in relation to what has been explained during the film. It’s a real tragedy and definitely hurts Source Code.
The acting is just average, with no one standing out. After Sam Rockwell’s excellent and strong performance in Moon, I got the impression that Duncan Jones had an ability to gain the best from a limited cast. However with a relatively good set of actors and actresses, they seemed to be dramatically underplayed and been painfully underwritten. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the protagonist, and initially impresses after his dry performance in, the similarly time altering picture, Prince of Persia. He brings an intensity into the character, while adding a hint of humour to the serious nature of the film. Gyllenhaal keeps the film on track until the later stages, where he is unavoidable dragged into the problems of the plot. 
Vera Farmiga’s performance is by far the best. However, there isn’t any back-story to her character, thus we gauge our understanding and impression of her from her actions throughout the film. While, this may be a hindrance in character development, Farmiga provides a well rounded performance to a underwritten character. Michelle Monaghan simply serves as the ‘romantic’ interest that Stevens builds up during his time in the ‘Source Code’. She adds nothing memorable or dramatic to the film, primarily because she plays along with the repetitive nature of the plot. 
Jeffrey Wright also fails to impress. His stereotypical portray of a mad scientist, bent on gaining millions in investment from governmental institutions is laughable. While Wright’s acting is rushed and soulless, there’s no attempt to explain anything about his character. His dialogue is boring and full of technical ‘jargon’, creating an under-developed douche. Adding to this under-performing cast is Russell Peters cameo. Who’s he? I didn’t know until researching him after watching the film. Turns out he’s a relatively famous Canadian stand-up comedian/ actor, in which his film character is a comedian from a talent show.  And unfortunately, he starts performing stand-up on the train, where he isn’t funny and the scene seems completely out-of-place. This scene is at the end of the film and I got the forced impression that the train commuters' laughs were supposed to symbolise ‘humanity?’ or ‘life?’ blahblahblah, which plays a philosophical/moral part in the last act. However it’s awkward and painful. 

But, Duncan Jones has created a film that looks great and clearly has a high production value. With many films that use a ‘repeating’ structure such as Groundhog Day and Run Lola Run, there is always the risk of boring the audience with continuous repetition. However, Source Code manages to keep the audience entertained with exciting action pieces, good editing and special effects. But snappy CGI and post-production can’t make a great movie. Overall Source Code is entertaining, but it is far from perfect. While it has an interesting plot, it soon falters under various flaws. This isn’t helped with characters that aren’t memorable and an ending that really ruined the film. After all the hype and positive reaction to the film, I left the cinema disappointed and confused by the ending. However, Duncan Jones remains relatively ‘young’ in his directing career, and I have high hopes for his next directing project. He is certainly 'one to watch' in the future. 


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