I imagine that as a director, having a critically acclaimed film right out of the gate would be both exhilarating and terrifying. Exhilarating because of all the praise and positive reinforcement, but terrifying because of expectations and what it means in terms of your next project. I wonder if Duncan Jones felt any of that pressure in working on and releasing Source Code. This is his second outing as a director and is also the follow-up to his much applauded, critically acclaimed film, Moon.
Not only is Source Code his sophomore film, but it’s also larger in scale on all fronts. Cast, budget, effects, release, it’s all bigger. But does bigger equal better? Not necessarily. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy Source Code because I did. But it took me some time to come to that conclusion. I loved Moon right off that bat. The simplicity / intricacies of the film along with the stunning visual style and performance by Sam Rockwell grabbed me and didn’t let go. Since it’s not really fair to compare the two films for reviewing purposes so I’ll leave Moon out of the equation.
Source Code has a really great premise even if it has that Groundhog Day quality of time repeating itself. Colter Stevens wakes up to find himself out of sorts in someone else’s body on a commuter train heading for Chicago. After an explosion destroys the train and kills everyone on board, he awakens again, this time in his own body, but still out of sorts. He’s told he’s part of a mission to track down the terrorist who planted the bomb by reliving the final eight minutes of one of the passengers who died.
Each trip back into the “source code” gives Colter more clues on who planted the bomb, and each time changes are made, but the outcome is the same. Colter is told that he can’t save the passengers or change what happened because he’s not going back in time, he’s just replaying those events. As he gets closer to fellow passenger Christina, he makes it his mission to not only find the bomber so that he can help prevent a future attack, but to also save the train and especially save Christina, regardless of what he’s been told.
Source Code is one of those films that you need time and multiple viewings to digest. With repeating those eight minutes over and over and keeping up with minute differences it was hard to catch everything. Like Inception or even Memento, you have to watch it over and over to catch everything. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. It’s nice to have a film that makes you use your brain instead of being spoon fed mindless drivel that seems to saturate theaters these days.
As far as performances go Jake Gyllenhaal was great as Colter. Playing a character that is in essence two different people, would seem a bit daunting. His character(s) run the gamut of confusion, fear, determination and everything in between pretty much simultaneously. Gyllenhaal’s face is extremely expressive, especially his eyes so when he’s conveying an emotion, it definitely comes across and here it’s no different.
Michelle Monaghan is one of those actresses that I just like no matter what. I don’t think I’ve seen her in something I didn’t like. Made of Honor was probably the closest I’ve come but I certainly don’t blame her performance for that. She normally plays that likable character and that’s what she is here. Christine is a passenger and friend to the body that Colter took over. She’s on the cusp of a life altering change and seems like she’s finding her inner free-spirit. She’s great in these types of roles but I’d really like to see her play a villain. Or even a character that is really just a bitch.
I would tend to think that Vera Farmiga’s Colleen Goodwin would be a tough character to play. Her main interaction is with Colter but they are never face to face. In fact, pay attention to her eye line. Goodwin is there to walk Colter through the mission and keep him on task. Her job becomes more and more difficult as the mission progresses and you can see that she is struggling with her role in the mission. Farmiga was a great addition to this cast. I really like her as well and wish she would show up more in films. She’s got the shoulders to carry big roles but just needs to opportunity to shine.
Rounding out the main case is Jeffrey Wright who you may remember played Felix Leiter in both of Daniel Craig’s Bond films. Here he’s the driven scientist behind the Source Code program. He’s all about getting the job done and validating his beloved project. He also seems like the type that will go to extreme lengths to make it happen, disregarding other factors.
Ok I know I said I wasn’t going to compare this to Moon, but I’m going to. Duncan Jones really is an amazing director. In Moon, he told an engrossing story that was layered with complexity in a simplistic way. That takes talent. Here he was able to tell an engrossing story, with a complex premise built around layered parameters. He’s got a niche for films that serve as a sort of Pandora’s Box and his ability to successfully put the film together in a cohesive way is something to be admired. I wish Hollywood had more like him.
Like I said, Source Code definitely isn’t a film for everyone. You have to have a handle on it to really get the gist and if you’re capable of picking out the film’s little nuances, then even better. There was an article I found after I watched the film where Jones highlighted eight things to keep an eye out for. I wish I had read this prior, but you can find it here if you’re interested in checking it out. It’s not really spoiler-y so you don’t have to worry about having the film ruined.
All of that being said, the film definitely had its flaws. The eight minute parameter made it hard to really develop any secondary characters especially that of the terrorist. His revelation on his reasoning was more of a shoulder shrug of an answer than anything else. When someone goes to those lengths to make a statement, the explanation given should be a little more than just a meh….because-type answer.
After having stewed about the film for a few days I can say that I did like it. It was a mind bender for sure, and it’s not for everyone. I feel like I’m saying that a lot these days. But seriously if you don’t want your brain twisted eight different ways, Source Code may not be for you. This is one of those movie that you can debate with your friends about. If you like to pull films apart, go see it with a group and then discuss. If you’re still undecided, check out the trailer again.
Have you seen it already? Leave a spoiler free comment below.Tags: Ben Ripley, Duncan Jones, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jeffrey Wright, Michelle Monaghan, Mind Bender, Movies with a Twist, Source Code, Time Travel, Vera Farmiga