REVIEW: Source Code

9 07 2011

Part “Inception” and part “Groundhog Day,” Duncan Jones’ sophomore directing effort “Source Code” is a fully engrossing thriller that blends the best aspects of both and reminds us how a good action movie should make us feel.  It’s cleverly written, masterfully directed, and potently acted.  It maintains an uncannily even keel while juggling action, mystery, and even some wit and heart.  Come December, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is still one of my favorites of the year.

The movie’s captivating sci-fi premise is executed admirably and with precision, largely thanks to how screenwriter Ben Ripley insists on making it so simple.  “Source Code” reminds us that original and complex aren’t necessarily synonyms on screen.  In about the time that it took “Inception” to lay out its exposition, Ripley gets us in and out of the source code, never making us feel lost or confused for a second.  Even at its short running time of under an hour and a half, we never feel like shorted in terms of story or entertainment.

The titular program allows Captain Colter Stevens, played with cunning and intensity by Jake Gyllenhaal, to relive the 8 minutes before a bomb explodes on a train outside of Chicago in the body of teacher Sean Fentress.  As he switches back and forth between finding the terrorist inside the source code and figuring out his own status outside, Stevens is putting together more than just an elaborate puzzle – he’s piecing together his life.  The stakes are high, and Gyllenhaal along with Vera Farmiga’s stone-faced – but not unemotionally robotic – webcam operator play them as such.  The result is that we don’t just want to sit back and watch the characters put the pieces together; we want to join in from the other side of the screen.

Thankfully, Duncan Jones’ astute direction and Ben Ripley’s script structure make it easy to be more than just a passive observer of Stevens’ journey.  We aren’t overloaded with exposition in the beginning, but are rather given the information on a need-to-know basis just as if we were Stevens.  We feel the frustration pumping through his vains as he is essentially the puppet of a secret military operation; however, our frustration is a little more faithful as we know that Jones and Ripley wouldn’t dare leave us hanging as to the specifics of source code and without the necessary tools to decipher their intricate film.

Yet “Source Code” is more than just a shrewd pastiche on a page: it’s a work of cinematic virtuosity from a blooming visionary director.  Duncan Jones, who doesn’t want you to think of him as David Bowie’s son, has truly made a name for himself on this film.  While his debut, “Moon,” underwhelmed me with its desperately Kubrickian conventions, this is a work that truly stands out.  He sees beyond Ripley’s script and enhances it with some fancy tricks that reward those paying close attention.

And unlike his first film, he finds the humanity in the story and makes it more than just an action-packed scifi-tinged thriller; he makes it an experience that commandeers all parts of us.  While movies nowadays are making a desperate grab for just a tiny part of our attention, be it our brain or our heart, his “Source Code” barely even has to try to get it all.  That’s the sign of a brilliant movie.  A- / 

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2 responses

12 07 2011
CMrok93

I didn’t think it was as much of a beautiful and brilliant film as many others thought but this is still an intriguing premise that works thanks to Duncan Jones’ direction. Let’s hope he keeps this winning streak up! Good Post Marshall!

12 07 2011
Sam Fragoso

A film that’s on my half-way top ten .. better on repeated viewings.

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