Title: Source Code
Directed By: Duncan Jones
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga, Michelle Monaghan, Jeffrey Wright, Michael Arden, Cas Anvar, Kyle Gatehouse
Source Code is big for Duncan Jones. Having stepped into the spotlight in the best way possible via his critically acclaimed first feature, Moon, Jones was bound for big budget Hollywood. Sure enough, the opportunity arose and Source Code is his second feature. Now the question is, can Jones do it again but with a new leading man and a whole lot more money? It’s a noble effort, but in the end, Source Code makes it quite clear; lots of money and a heartthrob lead don’t guarantee you a better product.
Jake Gyllenhaal is Colter Stevens, an army captain who wakes up on a train in the body of another man only to have that train explode and then come to, yet again, in a mysterious capsule all alone. Colter’s only source of communication is a small monitor through which he talks to Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), the army personnel subordinate to Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), the creator of the Source Code.
A bomb really did explode on a CCR train-heading straight for Chicago, but Colter wasn’t on it, that other man was, and Source Code enables Colter to inhabit that man’s body and relive the final eight minutes before the explosion in an effort to find the bomb’s detonator. When the eight minute cycle is up, that bomb explodes and Colter is whisked away back into the pod where Goodwin initiates the procedure again. Colter is assigned to do this over and over until he discovers the person responsible for the attack.
Clearly, this is a lot to digest. It’s also quite obvious that this whole concept is pretty unbelievable. The job of the filmmakers is to make this story feel real, or at least for the 93 minutes. While Jones and his team succeed in keeping you entertained and curious for that time span, the presentation doesn’t have the power to suck you in and make you really believe.
The first time around, the whole back-and-forth thing works. We know nothing about Colter’s situation and therefore, everything is new and interesting. The same is true once he hits the pod and begins his relationship with Goodwin. If only Colter stuck to the plan, we might have had enough information to be consumed by his mission so as to let the less believable plot points slide. However, on top of taking in the concept of this Source Code operation, we’re also expected to accept a budding relationship and Colter’s rocky past with his father, neither of which track quite well.
Sadly, this leaves Michelle Monaghan in a lose-lose situation. Her character, Christina, Colter’s eight-minute train fling, has no power. She can in no way impact Colter’s mission and we know it. All she does is repeat the same old dialogue, chase Colter around and eventually meet her unavoidable fate.
On the other hand, Farmiga finds great success in her role and that has a lot to do with the fact that Goodwin’s storyline, while not entirely plausible, is far more interesting and multidimensional. Unlike Christina, Goodwin’s position isn’t fixed. Yes, for a good portion of the film she’s communicating with Colter via the small screen, but she’s still got much deeper material to work with thanks to a pretty powerful moral dilemma. In fact, she’s so engaging you prefer to see the situation play out from her perspective rather than Colter’s.
The problem with Colter isn’t Gyllenhaal’s performance, rather the character development on writer Ben Ripley’s part. We never really get to know who Colter is. Back-story is dropped at an inconsistent and ineffectual rate, never allowing the audience to appreciate who this man truly is as compared to the situation he’s in. He’s a mere pawn in the adventure solely there to take us from point A to point B. It isn’t concern for Colter’s well-being that keeps you engaged, rather just the curiosity of what’s happening to him and as the film progresses, it becomes more and more evident that that answer lies with Goodwin making her the more effective of the two.
From a directing standpoint, Source Code makes for a fine second feature for Jones. Having worked in such a small space in Moon, Jones really knows how to spread the confines of the train to make it feel quite expansive and almost alive. While we certainly know every section of the vehicle about midway through the film, Jones presents it in a fresh enough way to create the slightest feeling that something’s not quite the same, keeping the tension high.
Two elements Jones should have pulled the reins on are Wright and the score. First off, Wright’s performance is laughably over the top. Apparently he thinks that playing the quintessential evil boss means putting a strange inflection in your voice. He isn’t connected to the character in the least as person, merely playing a role. Secondly, while the score is appropriately commanding at the start of the film, as it plays over the credits, it never abates ultimately becoming intrusive. Even worse, composer Chris Bacon takes it to the level that his music is dictating emotions. We can see the romanticism building between Colter and Christina; we don’t need you to tell us through your orchestra.
While Source Code is generally an entertaining film with a fascinating plot, the one thing that almost kills the experience is that even by the end, you’re just not sure if you believe it all. Had the film hit it out of the part in terms of convincing the audience Colter is really on this mission using this wildly advanced technology, the film’s faults could be overlooked. However, Source Code never quite gets to that point not only forcing you to put little bits and pieces into question, but the entire film’s validity.
By Perri Nemiroff