Sunday, 10 April 2011
(I saw this film nearly two weeks ago, but only just got round to posting this review. This is in no way a comment on the quality of the film, I'm just so damn lazy.)
Once upon a time there was a little film called "Moon". It was right good. The man what made it was dead into space things and science fiction and that - possibly because his poppa was a funky space-rock deity - and he wanted to make more films of that kind. Turned out, he couldn't afford to make the film he wanted, so he decided to take on a script that someone else had written and make that instead.
That's the story of "Source Code". Well, not the story of the film, but the story of the making of the film. Duncan Jones takes on a studio picture with a bigger budget and star, but can he maintain the heartfelt, humanistic sci-fi quality of his debut whilst giving us more bang for our buck?
"Source Code" is about Shakey Jake Gyllenhaal playing a soldier who is transported into a stranger's body for the last eight minutes of his life, just before he was killed in a terrorist attack on a train. Shakey must relive this eight minutes over and over until he works out who did the bombing.
So, in lazy film-journo terms, it's "Quantum Leap" vs. "Groundhog Day" vs. "24" or something.
Shakey also has to deal with the shadowy authority figures who zapped him into this mess, played by Jeffrey Wright in grumpy mad-scientist mode and Vera Farmiga as a button-down military-type suffocating under the pressure of authority. They only communicate with Shakey by video monitors in his little time-capsule, and are extremely cagey about the hows and the whys of the situation that Jake repeatedly demands answers for. Is there more to the mission than meets the eye? You reckon?
As an aside, Vera Farmiga has such beautiful, sad eyes in this film that you know she's gonna turn out to be lovely in the end.
So Shakey keeps on leaping, hoping that his next leap will be the one home, all the while uncovering clues of varying veracity as to the identity of the bomber, flirting with the pretty lady sitting opposite him (Michelle Monaghan), and getting blown up after eight minutes. Can he solve the mystery? Is he able to change the course of events that have already happened? What are they not telling him, and why? Etc.
This is a tight little thriller built around an interesting conceit and a nigh-on note-perfect performance by Gyllenhaal.
Jones and screenwriter Ben Ripley explore the high-concept in nifty and interesting ways, always coming back to Jones' apparent interest in the human element. Is Jake travelling through time? How does this outlandish technology effect people? Can life itself be recreated by science? How do we maintain our humanity in the face of this techno-revolution? The science may be ambiguous and a little hokey, but the big questions raised are interesting enough and the plot is so pacey (it's only about an hour and a half long) that it's difficult to pick faults.
Jones handles the transition to bigger budget with skill, delivering a number of special-effect money-shots that never detract from the intimacy of the tale.
The film belongs to the one-time Donnie Darko, however, as he is in pretty much every scene and we experience the whole wacky journey with him. Gyllenhaal's Colter Stevens is a masterclass in everyman determination, an ordinary grunt thrust into an outlandish situation, grappling with his mounting confusion and the conflicting emotions of his duty and his need to uncover the truth. He laughs, he cries, he flirts, he fights, he looks befuddled... Jake goes through pretty much every conceivable human emotion and is never less than thoroughly convincing.
He's backed up by solid turns from Monaghan (believable as a woman you could fall in love with in the space of eight minutes), Farmiga (all fragile nobility, suppressed emotion and hypnotic eyes) and Wright (bluster and pomposity on crutches), but they are supporting roles in the very literal sense, propping up the Shakey Jake Tower of Awesome. If Jones keeps getting performances like this one and the Sam Rockwell double-whammy in "Moon" into his films, we might start seeing some sci-fi at the Oscars for once.
As it stands, "Source Code" is a gripping little yarn with much to recommend it. It's not as good as "Moon", but it's an assured follow-up that confirms Jones has a bright future in which to attempt to outdo his debut.