Source Code Review

For the briefest of moments at the beginning of Source Code, there’s an expectation that we’re going to be watching a tribute to classic eighties sci-fi. A long drawn out note of music against a black screen recalls Terminator, Blade Runner and Alien. It’s enough to send a slight tingle up the spine. And then the visuals fade in, and the soundtrack begins, and it’s clear that’s not what we’re getting at all. This is Hitchcock.

With a prolonged tracking shot, showing a city going about its business, and an ebbing and flowing score, the opening to Source Code feels very much like the opening to North By Northwest. Indeed, had Hitchcock had access to a helicopter and a twenty-first century film crew, it’s likely he’d have made something like this. It works in exactly the same way, making the mundane fascinating, and hinting of the mystery to come.

And that Hitchcock influence runs deep. Source Code is a film that entwines three stories, and three worlds, each with their own mysteries. From the very beginning, to the end of the film, the sense of intrigue is palpable, and the desire to create one’s own theories about what we’re seeing, inescapable. What is truly remarkable about this, though, is how well these three worlds fit together. Ben Ripley’s script is very clever, and combined with the skill of the film’s director, Duncan Jones the join is seamless.

The intrigue we feel not only acts as the common thread to the different parts of the story, but also allows us to watch variations on the same scene over and over without fatigue. Early on in the film Gyllenhaal mentions that everything is “the same, but different”. It’s the perfect line. Suddenly we’re no longer focusing on seeing the same scene, but instead desperately searching for differences in otherwise identical sequences.

This sense of a Hitchcock-influenced mystery-thriller continues for the first hour or so of the film, as Gyllenhaal’s Captain Coulter Stevens tries to find the identity of a bomb-depositing terrorist on a doomed train. As our first mystery draws to a close, however, the film changes tone drastically.

By resolving one of the carefully laid out plot threads, we move from watching a classic thriller, to a much more contemporary one. The tempo increases, and the film becomes more controlled and confident. A change reflected in Gyllehaal’s performance.

Unfortunately, the resolution leads to one of the film’s weaker moments, the ‘explanation’ of what the Source Code is, and how it works. This is vague, silly, and on a par with the ‘technobable’ in Star Trek, or Doctor Who’s ‘wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey’ justification. Worse though, is that the explanation doesn’t fit with what we’re seeing on screen. It actually seems like there is a very good and clear explanation, which has informed many of the decisions made in the film, but has been replaced; presumably to avoid leaving members of the audience scratching their heads in confusion.

Fortunately, the effect of this hole in the film’s plot is mitigated by our concern for Coulter Stevens. Gyllenhaal is on screen in almost every minute of the film, and his charismatic and endearing portrayal smoothes over any of the minor plot hiccups created by the convoluted premise.

Jones too is on top form. In Moon he took influence from Kubrik and Ridley Scott. In Source Code its Hitchcock and the very best of Tony Scott, and despite a much bigger budget, Jones hasn’t allowed his film to become overwhelmed with effects and explosions. Like Moon, it still feels very human, and clearly focused on character rather than spectacle.

There is one odd moment towards the end of the film where Jones seems to have let the film slip from him a little: a minute or so of staccato cuts that simply doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. It’s a curious choice, and while it is by no means disastrous, it is jarring, at a point where the film shouldn’t jar, but otherwise it’s an impressive turn from the director.

Source Code is an intelligent, and entertaining film, and an impressive sophomore effort from Jones. Its flaws are minor, the cast are excellent, and it explores some fascinating ideas. It’s simply a shame that it occasionally loses confidence in itself and its audience to be able to understand those ideas.

Copyright © 2011 MCM BUZZ – Movies, TV, Comics, Gaming, Anime, Cosplay News & Reviews