Summit Entertainment // 2011 // 94 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // July 18th, 2011
Make every second count
Viewers who missed Moon may be forgiven. It was a sci-fi genre piece that didn't promise big explosions or bug-eyed aliens, it didn't have a famous actor in its leading role, and it was directed by the son of a pop start (Duncan Jones, son of Davey Jones, a.k.a. David Bowie). Those who did tune in found a visually inventive take on a human drama with lunar trappings, and one of the more brilliant debuts and science-fiction films of the twenty-first century. With Source Code, there's no excuse. Jones has kept the sci-fi trappings, but wrapped them in a thriller plot, with a trio of big-name actors in the lead and executed with a budget to match Jones's visual imagination. It's a sophomore film that delivers on the promise of an excellent debut, simultaneously sating the demand created by Moon while hopefully leaving fans expectant for more of Jones' work. Combine this excellent film with a solid DVD, and Source Code is a winner.
Source Code opens on a train, where Colter Stevens wakes up, completely unaware of his surroundings. He's sitting across from a woman (Michelle Monaghan, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) who seems to know him. When Colter looks in a mirror, he's wearing the wrong face. He doesn't have long to be confused, because a few moments later, the train explodes. Colter wakes up in a strange pod, and he's being talked to by Capt. Goodwin (Vera Farmiga, The Departed). She explains that he's part of a project dubbed "Source Code" that allows him to relieve the 8 minutes of someone else's experience before the train explosion. Capt. Goodwin explains that the train exploded because of a bomb, and the bomber plans to hit Chicago unless he can be stopped. Now it is up to Colter to relieve those 8 minutes over and over again, trying to uncover the bomber.
People always ask writers where their ideas come from, but that's not the difficult part of writing a story. It's relatively easy to get new ideas if you just mash up some old ones. Take Source Code: What if Groundhog Day was about stopping a terrorist rather than a guy learning not to be a jerk? There, great idea and it wasn't so hard. The difficult part is deciding what to do with that idea. Writer Ben Ripley had to figure out how to make the plot device of recurring time work, how to balance what happens inside Source Code and what happens in the real world, and most importantly, how to end it all without copping out with some kind of "It was all a dream" ending.
Amazingly, Ripley manages to do all of that with aplomb, and Duncan Jones gives the film the visual polish it needs to live up to the thrilling premise. He doesn't overwhelm the viewer with flashy pyrotechnics, but includes enough visual effects to sell the sci-fi premise. In many ways, despite the higher budget, Source Code is reminiscent of Moon. Both films take place primarily on limited sets with occasional forays into the wider world. This grounds Source Code in a limited reality that makes its fantastic premise a bit easier to swallow. When the time comes for those big effects moments, Jones doesn't shy away from giving it everything he's got, with some satisfyingly spectacular results.
That spectacle would be for nothing without the great central performances of Gyllenhaal, Monaghan, and Farmiga. I wasn't sure if Gyllenhaal could effectively pull of such an action oriented role, but his Colter is both sympathetic and believable as a man of action. Monaghan does her best "girl next door," playing a character we can only learn about obliquely, while Farmiga plays Goodwin with a quiet authority.
To cap it all, Source Code gets an excellent DVD release. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is absolutely up to scratch as far as contemporary Hollywood movies are concerned. Detail is strong, colors are well-saturated, and the image is delightfully free of digital artifacts. The 5.1 surround audio does an equally strong job with both the dialogue (which is clear and free of distortion) and the excellent score. Both the low end and surrounds get a workout during the more action-oriented scenes, and overall this is a strong track.
Extras start out with a commentary track featuring Jones, Ripley, and Gyllenhaal. The trio sit down for a subdued track that combines preproduction info with insights on how the film was shot and edited, as well as some comments about his performance from Gyllenhaal. Subtitles are helpfully included for the track. Another subtitle track includes trivia that plays throughout the movie, giving general trivia about things like locations along with production-specific info. These extras are followed by a series of featurettes called "Cast Insights" that combine film footage with cast interviews discussing their co-stars. It's an occasion for a bunch of backslapping, but a few interesting tidbits come out of their reminisces. Finally, "Focal Points" includes a series of short animated films talking about some of the scientific concepts the film deals with. For instance, under the heading "Quantum Physics," we're treated to an animated explanation of the double-slit experiment. These are informative pieces, though a bit more commentary on how they relate to the film would have been appreciated.
Source Code is a speculative sci-fi action thriller, so complaining about how closely it cleaves to reality is perhaps somewhat silly. However, I'm left with the nagging feeling that the whole "Source Code" idea is a bit iffy. Time-bending movies often run up against this problem, and while Source Code handles it better than most, sticklers for strict continuity might have something to gripe about.
I'm also unsure if Source Code is going to have a lot of replay value. Once the cat's out of the bag plot-wise, some fans might not want to come back. I think the ending has enough emotional impact to warrant a re-watch, but those just looking for the thriller aspects might not agree.
For an action/sci-fi/thriller, Source Code is a remarkably fragile film. Although it has all the twists and turns expected of the genre, it also has a few emotional surprises up its sleeve, ones I wouldn't want to spoil. With a strong DVD release, Source Code is worth at least a rental for anyone looking for a mind-bending take on time travel, terrorism, and the possibility of love.
I don't need to go back in time to see that Source Code is not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Summit Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Trivia Track
* Cinema Verdict Review