If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Source Code is a very entertaining and smart sci-fi thriller that came along at just the right time. Let's be honest, this year has so far sucked for movies but this is an intelligent film that sticks out from the rest. This is a very well-made cyber thriller with a lot more heart and entertainment value than your average film.
I'm sure you are wondering what Source Code is. Well, it is a program that allows a person to relive the last 8 minutes of another person's life. The military, or at least a division of it, is using it to try to find out who is responsible for a bomb going off on a Chicago train. So Jake Gylenhaal's character, Colter Stevens, has to continuously step into the shoes of an average teacher and get blown up until he finds the culprit. He also has no idea how he got into the isolation chamber that he is trapped in, the last thing he remembered was flying a helicopter in Iraq. But the people supervising his mission, a woman named Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) and source code's inventor Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), do not want to waste time explaining too much to Colter because the train bombing is believed to be preceding a much larger attack on the city. Of course, they do explain this to him because the audience also needs to know to. The way the exposition is done is one of the strengths of the film. Also in the cast is Michelle Monagham, who plays the girlfriend of the teacher that Colter keeps jumping into.
The plot seems like a derivitive combination of movies like Groundhog Day, Deja Vu, 12 Monkeys, and several other cyber thrillers. And it is, but the Hitchcockian approach that the director takes is different than those other films. Source Code is directed by Duncan Jones, who did an underappreciated indie gem called Moon. This guy is definately someone to watch, he's got a lot of talent and could be a very prestigious director in the future. Jones puts the story together in a way that is not only very interesting and fun, but adds a level of humanity to it that is rarely as strong in these sort of films as it is here. Another reason that this film works so well is Jake Gylenhaal's performance. He sells you on his character and gets you interested in his backstory and what's going to happen to him. He does a great job of showing the paranoia of knowing that he is going to "die" and not being able to do anything about it. Much like the direction, Gylenhaal adds a level of humanity that engages you from the very beginning of the film.
Source Code is written by Ben Ripley, who previously wrote two straight-to-DVD Species sequels and one made-for-TV movie. The script has plenty of problems, mainly it being just a combination of ideas from other films without too much original to it. But this is an example of the "it's not the script, it's what you do with it" philosophy that I follow whenever it is convinient to my opinion. Duncan Jones is able to grab you into the film and direct it in a way that feels original enough that I didn't think about its similarities to other films until it was over. The editing is also very solid. The movie never feels repetitive even though the same events happen over and over again because they're each constructed differently enough to feel fresh. City landscape and skyline cinematography has always had a place in my heart and Source Code opens up with a really badass birds-eye pan over the Chicago landscape that warrants a visit to a very large screen all by itself.
But we have to get into somethings that I didn't like about the film. My biggest problem was the ending. While Jones does an excellent job giving the film humanity and life for most of the movie, the conclusion just feels forced and unauthentic. I don't want to give away too much, but it feels like it should have ended on a much darker note than it does because either the writer or the studio didn't want to scare away too many moviegoers. I've always disliked happy endings that pretend the world is all happy now that just one out of an infinite number of problems and misfortunes was solved, but that's just my own pessimistic attitude speaking. I also got annoyed with the old fashioned score, but again, that's just my own tastes. I have a few small complaints here and there that would come across as nitpicking if I went into detail. What matters is that the good easily out weighs the bad.
It's great to see a drama with this level of intelligence and life behind it after going through the first few dog months of cinema. Even though Source Code runs short at just under an hour and a half, it's still very much worth paying to see. I assumed walking out of Sucker Punch that this year in film could only go up and this gives me hope that I might just be right.