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Source Code (2011)

April 13, 2011

8/10 Minute Men

Yet another great reason to rally behind Zowie Bowie.

Source Code is about a military pilot who wakes up one day to find himself trapped in a metal room with no recollection as to how or why he got there, but soon comes to the realization that he is in fact Uncle Sam’s latest lab rat. His mission – which he has no choice but to accept – has him being transported into another guy’s body so that he can find a bomb in the eight minutes before it goes off and prevent a subsequent terrorist attack from wiping out all of Chicago. At the end of the eight minutes, he inevitably dies, zooms back to his body in the mini-prison, gives a SITREP, and then gets sent back out once again to the re-live the same eight minutes in the other guy’s body until he finds the bomber. As he gets closer to fingering the culprit, he starts to fall for the guy’s traveling companion, weird stuff starts happening all around him, and the truth behind his exceptionally peculiar situation starts to unravel at the seams.

Okay, it took me a really long time to write that summary and I realize that it may very well make zero effing sense ’cause this ain’t exactly the easiest premise to break down in four sentences. Maybe an easier way to think of it would be if you combined Minority Report with Groundhog Day, only with more focus on precogs and less focus on Ned Ryerson. Still lost? Well, that’s the best I’ve got. Just run with it.

So, yeah, some of this stuff is a bit on the confusing side, but it would be a whole lot more frustrating if it wasn’t so well-structured and compelling from start to finish. As much as I’d like to say that a lot of that credit goes to director Duncan Jones, the love here is actually gonna to go Ben Ripley’s first stab at big league screenwriting. Yeah, the way the hero of our story’s private prison and psyche are brought to life are all Jones’ doing and they are very much worth mentioning, but the things that makes this movie memorable are the ideas that fuel it.

I’m a big fan of movies that shoot for five-run homers when it comes to originality and Ripley’s got that in spades. This is one of those scripts that make it easy for me to overlook its shortcomings because I know for a fact that I could never come up with something this heady and wild without taking a fistful of peyote, watching 2001: A Space Odyssey, and having a voice recorder on hand to capture all the bizarro crap that pops into my head. It’s all the surprises I didn’t see coming even if I’m not the type to guess in the first place, it’s the way Ripley had this whole thing figured out from the get-go and stages it so that the audience feels like he’s just playing the plot by ear, and it’s the way the script completely shifts from one genre to the next the more things start to unfold. On top of all the sci-fi thrills, it’s actually got a good little message to boot about a range of things from “semper fi” to “carpe diem”, and that’s always a surefire to elevate any movie from popcorn escapism to something substantial.

And I’m also a big fan of scripts that provide its audience with info on a need-t0-know basis and only fleshes out at the pace that its horribly confused protagonist learns it. Man, it’s just nice to go into a movie for once and not know what the hell is gonna happen next because it’s not borrowing from stories you’ve already heard; and by the time it’s over, chances are you’ll be wondering what the hell just happened. With that being said, I’m not sure whether I liked or disliked the ending here, and that’s not so much because it doesn’t make sense, but I’m more just waiting for someone to explain it to me so I can get some freakin’ sleep already. So if there’s anyone out there who’s cracked this sucker and can give me the lowdown, I’m all ears. I’m pretty sure it makes sense since the rest of the script is so consistent in following the rules that Ripley lays out along the way, but if it isn’t and the whole thing is malarkey, I might have to readjust that verdict. But either way, it’s a trip, and the characters that support are surprisingly good, too.

Now, when I think about movies like Primer and Inception, one can assume that it must be pretty hard to develop both ideas and characters without ultimately leaning heavily towards one side or the other. But the thing with those two movies is that the characters more or less served as a means to end, and that’s not really the case here. When things are explained, they’re explained briefly over the length of the entire film rather than in one big lecture, and even though the driving force behind the plot is for this guy to find the bomb, that actually ends up playing second fiddle to what’s going on with the guy himself. I don’t know, it’s hard to to explain in detail without giving anything away, and while it’s not operating on the same mind-blowing level as Primer and Inception, I don’t think anyone will walk out of this saying, “Been there, done that.”

And the cast ain’t bad either. Jake Gyllenhaal and all the silly little faces he makes when he’s angry is good as Captain Colter Stevens; it’s wonderful to see Michelle Monaghan getting some stead work these days as Colter’s gal, Christina; Vera Farmiga’s got a good, interesting role as Colter’s military superior of sorts; and Jeffrey Wright’s a smarmy little bastard as Farmiga’s military superior of sorts. Nothing really stand-out, but they all get it done and do it well. Sweet.

It’s beyond me how such a fun and smart movie ended up with such a shitty trailer, but that’s just one surprise of many that this thing has going for it. Even though I’m still thinking about some of the ideas it puts into play days after walking out of the theater, this isn’t one of those movies that I’ll be racing to see again if only because I’m not quite sure an extra viewing would even be enough to get it straight and there are only so many Mementos in the world to keep me coming back until I could write a goddamn thesis on it. But then again, that really is a royally minor gripe in comparison to what a refreshingly original, intelligent, and entertaining ride Source Code is. Nothing wrong with getting treated to a Summer blockbuster in April, but that’s not fair, Summer blockbuster rarely have this much brains about ’em.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. April 13, 2011 7:05 am

    The premise is taken from other films, and the script isn’t that good but somehow Jones just makes this such a suspenseful movie and you have no idea what’s going to happen next. I’m also glad to hear that he may be taking over “The Wolverine” project. Sweet. Good Review Aiden!

    • April 25, 2011 11:12 am

      Thanks. Man, that’d be awesome if he took over Wolverine. Not Aronofsky awesome, but still pretty boss. But idk, was a bigger fan of the script than the direction with this one. All the same, good stuff all around.

  2. April 13, 2011 7:44 am

    Yup, can’t wait to catch this one. I even thought the trailer wasn’t too bad….. oh well.

  3. April 13, 2011 3:36 pm

    Glad that this is much better than the trailer suggests. I knew the script was really good but the trailer was so bad it managed to temper my desire to see this. Definitely interested in going down to the theater to check this out now, maybe later this week!

    • April 15, 2011 10:28 am

      Yeah, this comment is too true. The trailers and TV spots are fucking awful; I’m kind of amazed that Source Code has come close to breaking even only two weeks past its release, because the studio clearly had no goddamn idea how to sell this thing. Maybe that’s not their fault, since Moon was and still is practically invisible, and how else do you sell Jones’ sophomore effort without that (or announcing him as the visionary son of David Bowie)?

      I absolutely loved this one. Best movie of 2011 for me so far, hands-down. It’s glossier and prettier and much more produced, and for me honestly the biggest concern about Source Code was that that lack of low-tech charm could hurt it. But a shinier sheen does nothing to detract from Jones continuing his exploration of morality and ethics. If nothing else it adds to the experience for a wider audience without bringing the film down for those who became immediate admirers after watching Moon.

      • April 25, 2011 11:19 am

        Yeah, it’s definitely a hard sell and hard to even explain for that matter. But I agree, Jones does a damn good job of making it look pretty without getting fancy…if that makes any sense. Definitely one of the more inspired movies that I’ve seen in a bit.

    • April 25, 2011 11:15 am

      I know, that fucking trailer. But still hope you see it, man. The one good thing about a shitty trailer is that it’ll lower your expectations, and I think that’s a big reason why this ended up being such a surprise.

  4. April 13, 2011 8:31 pm

    I’m excited about Duncan Jones. This script could have very easily been a shite movie, but he made it something pretty good.

    • May 2, 2011 2:41 pm

      That he did, but props to the script, too. There was a lot going on here and it was pretty clever to boot.

  5. April 14, 2011 6:32 pm

    I never did get around to seeing this – because of the crap trailers in question – but when it hits Redbox I will be there.

  6. April 15, 2011 6:48 pm

    Really want to see this now, the trailer looked pants but I keep hearing good things about this. I think I’ll make this my next mid-week movie.

    • May 2, 2011 2:42 pm

      Haha. I gotta start using “pants” to describe stuff. Hope you dig it!

  7. April 19, 2011 3:06 am

    This movie surprised the heck out of me… Jake Gilliganinthehall (or whatever his name is) really drives the human aspect of this awesome story home !

    • May 2, 2011 2:44 pm

      Yeah, he gets it done, huh? Pretty solid all around and totally unexpected for a trailer that made it look like total shit.

  8. December 28, 2011 3:40 am

    Ah, just saw this. I was a big fan of “Moon”, so I had certain expectations. Didn’t dislike it, but didn’t like it either. Was a little boring at times, a little repetitive. Like Gyllenhaal alright, but have a strong dislike for Vera Farmiga (although she was good for the role). Contrary to you, I have to ask myself who the hell would cast Michelle Monhagan in anything. I find her incredibly flat. But oh well… it was all just a little flat, i think. “Moon” was on a whole ‘nother level.

    • January 2, 2012 8:18 pm

      Haha. Man, it feels like forever since I saw this movie, so I get where you’re coming from. Thinking back, it was way better than the commercials made it out to be and was smarter than the average blockbuster, but I haven’t really thought about it since. Step in the right direction for Zowie Bowie even though I’m with you on Moon being better. Still waiting for him to have his BIG break though.


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