Thursday, October 6, 2011

Source Code (2011)

     I have what I like to think is an appropriate level of affection for The Outer Limits (1963-65; 1995-2002) and The Twilight Zone (1959-64; 1985-89; 2002-03).  There is a lot that can be done with an anthology show that cannot be done with a serialized series, and both shows – in all their incarnations – had no problem embracing science fiction.  Still, both shows occasionally ran into the problem of the "neat idea" for the story not filling the entire episode with meaningful moments and dialogue; some episodes had to be padded.
     This is much how I feel about Source Code (2011).  There is a clever, wholly implausible concept at play that allows for a person to sort of travel in time.  Even better, there is an underlying story of a man learning how to make meaning out of a life that is not his own.  Unfortunately, director Duncan Jones and writer Ben Ripley handle the human element with a distinct lack of finesse.  Everything in the movie is either too obvious or so abrupt as to make one wonder if the script was finished before shooting started.
     There is never really a moment of doubt as to the state of Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) or the motivation of Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright).  Vera Farmiga – as Captain Goodwin – seems to have been given the simple direction of "bite your lip...look vaguely left, then knit your brows while biting your lip", and it really feels like a waste to put someone who is establishing herself as a star in such a role.
     Even with these criticisms, I found myself enjoying the film.  Sure, it felt like there was no real understanding of Chicago (maybe the filmmakers do and I'm the one with an extremely limited take on my home region) and the plot device that is supposedly driving the action is resolved in much too easy a manner, but I found myself more interested in the more human stories being repeatedly visited on the train.  Where Jones crafted Moon (2009) to be dark and miserable in tone, he allows Source Code to rise to a level of romanticism that most science fiction films wouldn't dare.  Gyllenhaal may not have been the best choice to portray a subtle emotional journey, but he is no worse than anyone else in the cast and seems to play the smirking, knowing character better than any other.
     As a movie that I waited quite some time to see – and then a long time to review – Source Code didn't disappoint me.  It is a rather small, simple, clever story forced into a feature length movie, and I have to wonder if developing the back-story more would have lead to a better payoff for the audience (it would have done the trick for me).  I would recommend giving it a chance, at the very least.

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