Tuesday, 12 April 2011

REVIEW: Source Code

Duncan Jones, David Bowie's kid and the guy who did 'Moon' makes his proper Hollywood debut with thriller 'Source Code' with a tanned Jake Gyllenhaal and a pretty Michelle Monaghan.

Have you ever seen that Tony Scott film with Denzel Washington called 'Deja Vu'? Well if you have, get ready for some ... Deja Vu - because it's a similar premise. The whole point of Source Code is to not give too much away so let me tell you the bits that don't give anything away to begin with. Basically, Jake is a soldier sent into someone else's body in a train that's about to blow up, however he only has 8 minutes to find the bomber. That's pretty much it.

The thing is, this is sold subconsciously as the next 'Inception' - if you look at the movie poster it's him running while stuff seems to blow up and away in the background, like that bit in Inception. It's also got a British director at the helm and even the font is essentially the same. The colour palette for the entire film could also be considered similar to Inception, it's blue greyish visuals reminiscent of Nolan's masterpiece. However, it doesn't even begin to get as close to it.

The thing is, Source Code doesn't really make sense, and then it goes off on one anyway. The initial Groundhog Day-like humour feels slightly jarring - should I actually be finding this funny? I guess so. Also when he looks into the mirror to see someone else stare back, I was expecting him to say 'oh boy' (Quantum Leap reference there for non Sci-Fi fans). The problem is, it's tough without giving too much away. The constant repetition feels like an actor's studio, after studying Drama myself for a while, there was always the classic exercise of acting out a scene again and again, remembering gestures etc. and it feels like that, in fact I think Gyllenhaal overplays his hand many times and I would argue is actually mis-cast. Monaghan is a good counterpoint to try and keep the idea somewhat grounded in reality whereas it's really Vera Farmiga and the hugely underrated Jeffrey Wright that feel like the true actors. They are the shady military bodies sending poor Gyllanhaal's Stevens back into time. But then is it time he's being sent into?

Apparently, the science is that after death the brain has an 8 minute window of memory and somehow they are able to tap into the memory of this guy 'Sean' who was on the train that Stevens is sent back into. I'm still unclear walking out of the movie whether it was tapping into the brain, or tapping into time. The idea is that he can't change time, because it's already happened and so there would be a parallel universe in accordance with whether he stopped it or not. I thought it was just a computer program as at one key point, the 'code' starts to falter and he starts to lose a grip. The ending, which I'll come to later in case you haven't seen it (I'll put up an alert), makes no sense whatsoever and what makes this different from Inception is that, in some weird way, I can work out the science in Inception but in this I can't, and it frustrates me as it loses it's appeal by just trying to be a bit different. It has in fact, 'pulled a lost'.

The acting is so-so, the directing was OK but then it wasn't anything crazy - some helicopter shots, stuff in a train car, stuff in a military room, stuff in a weird shell. If anything it's the editing which is commendable by letting it flow seamlessly together without causing too much of an obstruction. However, I didn't think this was particularly well crafted. In fact, for a thriller I didn't get much thrills and the idea of resetting the clock takes away from the danger element. The first hour or so of the film is spent trying to figure out who the bomber is, and that's interesting - the audience play along with Stevens as to who the culprit may be. However, once you've figured it out, it's an anti-climax that then afterwards tries to take a more personal route as Stevens carries on on his own mission. It doesn't even matter if he stops the bomb, he just has to find the bomber who, in this present day reality, is threatening to unleash a bigger bomb. Everyone's already dead and they can't be saved we are told again and again.

There's not that much action, there's a couple of twists that were okay and an ending left up for interpretation (which I will come to) and it's better than Scott's 'Deja Vu', but not by much. Gyllenhaals' persistent, frustrating questions deny the audience of the speed needed and there's a tiny sequence where it's suggested he has been back multiple times and the idea of 'dying' again and again has taken it's toll leaving him clearly exhausted, but it's a lazy piece of exposition. This is nothing like Inception, there were bits that made me laugh out loud a lot that eased the tension, but there wasn't that much tension really anyway. I was dissatisfied but my girlfriend suggested that it was good to see something original on the screen, which is true but I felt it was a mixed bag. It should have either kept to the modern-day action flick, the Eighties Sci-Fi-er or the Hitchcockian thriller but instead it felt like a garbled take on a single idea of going back in time for 8 minutes - which in theory is a good one. Perhaps they tried to do too much? Or maybe they did too little? I just don't think I'd ever watch it again and didn't come out thinking it was that great. There will be people who like the concept, who respect the director and the actors, that it's a bold attempt at something, but really this will one of those films people will forget by this time next year. Maybe I'm missing something, or maybe it's because the ending really made me angry ... I'll give the rating now but scroll underneath for the reason why, but it will include Spoilers.

Rating: 6/10


Okay, so I guess the key thing is establishing whether he's actually going 'back in time' or whether it's some weird computer 'code'. Let's say for arguments sake that he is actually going back in time and each time he's offsetting a parallel universe. In that case, where the hell is the original Sean? Once Stevens 'dies' he's left in Sean's body? What's that about? What will happen when he has to meet his parents again? How will he teach History? He's been meeting this girl for a little bit and now steals her away from the guy she's obviously crazy over? It doesn't work. Also some have argued that he's dead and this is his heaven. It's a stupid theory because if it was his afterlife, we wouldn't be cutting away to the Source Code division, neither would he have Sean's face, nor would there have been flashes of this parallel universe during the film. It would also mean that there would be two Stevens' in one dimension which, if Back To The Future taught me anything, could create a paradox that would spell the end of the Universe! Or whatever. It was annoying and logically didn't work. People say 'oh, it's just a bit of fun' but for me to clarify it as fun in it's own world, it should always make sense in the context it has set up. Inception might be full of stuff that doesn't really add up but it makes sense in it's own weird way, the best films always do. It's one of my main arguments against Lost is that for it to work and sufficiently entertain, it cannot cheat the audience, which it did. I always remember when Hitchcock made Stage Fright, he always said his greatest mistake was duping the audience into thinking a flashback was real. The audience have to trust the filmmaker, and to exploit it is the same as exploiting the trust you give to anyone. You are passively subject to the director's wishes and he knows that he's already got you, so he can do what he likes. Source Code unfortunately is the same as this, and even though it made for an entertaining film, I really thought it would be more than it was. Instead it's a mediocre sci-fi/action film that's been done before and ends up just getting on my nerves.

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