SXSW 2011: SOURCE CODE REVIEW - Another Look
Over the past few years I continually heard the tellings of science fiction's resurgence in Duncan Jones' Moon, with practical effects, a small budget, stellar acting and an original premise, Jones' first feature was a blissful surprise. Science Fiction, not syfy or fantasy, remains a genre with minimal entries each year, the smart, proper sci-fi flicks are few and far between. Science fiction's resurgence is something that gets bandied around quite a bit, a beloved genre and one where good films tend to get stuck on geek pedestals. Before Moon we had Primer, Shane Carruth's masterful time travel enigma, and another, hey sci-fi might make a comeback film. With so little science fiction created we latch on to the smart films and say this is it, sci-fi is coming back, and more often than not it dwindles again.
Duncan Jones often speaks of the other sci-fi projects he wants to create, three more if you count Source Code, and has quickly become a filmmaker, sci-fi nerds turn towards to champion the genre. His second film, Source Code, is not the heady sci-fi of his previous effort, but instead presents an entertaining look at parallel reality, through the lens of the accessible blockbuster.
Source Code deals in, the lite, high-concept sci-fi variety. Laden with action, explosions and romance to help it fit into the April landscape. Pseudo-science gets the go ahead: The wonders of parabolic physics and quantum mechanics, combined with the temporal memory banks of the deceased, allow science to recreate parallel realities of specific events, which, through the matching of synaptic maps, allows someone to enter the recreated event in recurring 8 minute segments, boom, Source Code.
Initially a puzzle, we follow a military helicopter pilot freshly wakened in someone else's body, bound for Chicago aboard a commuter train. Jake Gyllenhaal, the latent pilot and action star, carries the film with a competency and sense of humor Prince of Persia nearly made me forget existed. Our knowledge of the situation echoes the knowledge of the helicopter pilot. He wakes with no comprehension of his station, much the viewers plight. As the story progresses bits and pieces are given to the audience and hero simultaneously, letting us think through what the hero must, in relative tandem. The puzzle grows as a disaster rocks the train and Jake is thrown back into a dank, metallic capsule, harnessed, and faced with a communications link to mission control.
Repetitions and re-insertions build a compelling structure as the soldier attempts to figure out the intricacies of his mission in eight minute bits; Groundhog Day meets James Bond with a tad of 12 Monkeys. Back-boning the action is a fairly traditional love story: sitting across from Jake on the train, is an attractive love interest portrayed by Michelle Monaghan, a playful foil for the iterative romance.
Much as in Moon, Jones shows a meticulous visual eye. While the larger explosives occasionally come off cheesy, the more prominent green-screen, virtual camera and set design work are all the impressive gift of someone with genuine talent. Jones once again showing he has the creativity and imagination for science fiction.
Though the first 70 minutes are a great deal of fun, they eventually come to a head, in a conciliatory third act of: hey, wait, this isn't just an action film, but something with grander ambition. That ambition is a placid, depthless examination of bureaucratic, service and mortality related issues. Culminating in a brief analysis of parallel realities, and how they may replicate; a summation of the love we have been watching bloom the entire time. The slow reveal structure of the film prevents many of these issues from rearing their heads earlier, but the whirlwind tour of complexities feels grasping.
While not the high-brow sci-fi I was hoping for, Source Code provides a solid, popcorn munching action film, of the type I will happily watch again. Jones plans on continuing in the sci-fi mold, hoping to direct a Blade Runner homage, "future city film" next, while his long gestating project Mute simmers and may become a graphic novel.
Source Code opens April 1st Nationwide.
Author's Note: There are many films I don't mention in the intro that have proven excellent entries in the genre over the past few years, Timecrimes and Sunshine among them. I am not discounting these films but instead pointing to more recognizable entries. Rian Johnson's Looper will hopefully fall into this batch come its release.