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rochefort [Film Festival 03.12.11] movie review news scifi thriller

Year: 2011
Directors: Duncan Jones
Writers: Ben Ripley
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: rochefort
Rating: 7 out of 10

[Editor's Note: Source Code opens this weekend! What did you think?]

In "Source Code", director Duncan Jones' follow-up to one of the best science-fiction films in a long, long time, Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds himself stuck in an eight-minute loop on a Chicago-bound commuter train. He's part of a new Military experiment designed by an arrogant professor (Jeffrey Wright) and his far more personable assistant Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), an experiment wherein a certain "source code", essentially the last eight minutes of a key person's life, can be entered via another individual so as to relive and re-examine the particulars of those eight minutes. In Stevens' case, he's been tasked with repeatedly entering the body of one of the doomed train's passengers in an attempt to determine why, at the end of the eight minutes (and the passenger's life), the train exploded, killing everyone onboard.

Talk about tough acts to follow. 2009's Moon felt very much like a film destined to become a classic, the kind of picture that helps to reaffirm that sci-fi cinema need not deal largely in explosions and gunplay to be both relevant and immensely entertaining. Had it not been released in the shadow of the more financially successful District 9, Jones' feature debut may have even garnered all of that film's accolades, but it's at least easy to argue that it was an early and important entry in the crop of cerebral sci-fi that has come since (Never Let Me Go, Transfer, even Inception). So now Jones and his more than capable cast (which also includes the generally likable Michelle Monaghan, as the passenger who had been flirting with Stevens' alter ego just before the process began) have attempted to up the ante a tad and tell what amounts to a story that is slightly bigger in terms of star power and production value, but is ultimately not quite as emotionally engaging as the tale of Sam Rockwell's doomed Robinson Crusoe. The good news is that while not as great as its predecessor, it's still a fine little film.

Comparisons to "Groundhog Day", "Sliding Doors", even "Run Lola, Run" are inevitable; screenwriter Ben Ripley even jokingly acknowledged them during the Q & A after the screening. And it's actually pretty fair to make those comparisons, especially since Stevens' adjustment process to the source code prompts some reactions and bad choices that definitely call to mind Bill Murray's defiant refusal to accept the reality of life stuck in a loop. Gyllenhaal is charismatic enough, and his pairing with Monaghan full of enough convincing chemistry, that one might be willing to let some of the more derivative moments slide.

The real clincher is that, unlike the films to which it's currently being compared, "Code" actually offers up an attempt to ground the "stuck in a loop" formula with advanced (albeit highly theoretical and just as highly fantastical) science. It's a double-edged sword, one that pays off in the final act and justifies some of the more implausible scenes in the film's middle, but for some may come too late. For all practical purposes, Stevens is repeatedly reliving a dead person's memory, but gets different results every time he adds a different action to the mix, and can even go places and do things that his original host probably never went or did. Wright's scientist gives some abstract explanations as to why this is possible, but this aspect of the story puts the strongest strain on the audience's suspension of disbelief. It's that dangerous and shady zone where science fiction clumsily blurs with science fantasy, and is a bit of a tough sell.

The redemption, for me at least, comes from the more tragic elements in play here, and in this respect "Source Code" is most definitely a worthy follow-up to "Moon", as both films ultimately put front and center the central theme of a worthy but doomed protagonist who is manipulated by a massive and mostly faceless system, and can only triumph by making certain drastic sacrifices. It's a welcome and somewhat uncommon theme, this idea that whether or not the greatest evil is put down, there's comfort to be had in winning even the smallest victories while sticking to one's principles. Tragedy, whether it be the understated melancholy at the heart of "Inception" or the almost nihilistic sadness that caps off "District 9", seems to be a recurring theme of most of the latest and best sci-fi efforts, and Jones manages to balance tragic inevitability and quiet hope better than most.

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Hal (9 years ago) Reply

Can't wait to see this. Thanks for review. I think most great stories benefit from a tragic element


Michael (9 years ago) Reply

SOURCE CODE looks good. I don't understand all the praise for MOON(it ain't no classic). It seemed like a overlong Twilight Zone episode.


J.J. (9 years ago) Reply

Yeah I have to admit I thought Moon was pretty mediocre and way over-hyped, but it was probably just people reacting to finally having a thoughtful film to watch rather than just the usual Hollywood nonsense.


John (9 years ago) Reply

Right on J.J.!


Anonymous (9 years ago) Reply

This looks mediocre so I'm glad to read it's better than expected.


Anonymous (8 years ago) Reply

il film non e' ancora uscito in Italia ma penso che D. Jones sia un regista di razza. la fantascienza e' un genere che gli si addice e sono sicuro che sara' il regista del sequel di Blade Runner


agentorange (8 years ago) Reply

Saw it. Loved it. Perhaps not quite on the same level as other recent mindbenders like Inception, Time Crimes, or even Moon for that matter, but it was solid entertainment with a slick sense of momentum and style.

Only compaint was that it should have ended three scenes earlier than it does. You'll know what I mean when you see it.



agentorange (8 years ago) Reply

Also, Rochefort, I agree with you that the biggest issue with the "logic" of the film is that he can go and do things his "host" didn't. As you say there is an argument to be made about that by the time the film ends, but I can see it being hard to swallow for that certain brand of film viewer (you know who you are) who can't let anything the least bit illogical slide in a movie. Personally I'm glad I'm not one of those people and there's a reason those people never seem to write or make movies.

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