Source Code review

Duncan Jones' first offering was an innovative, identity piece that crossed genres. His new film, however, seems to be just an action-packed Hollywood rerun of La Jetee, along the lines of Deja Vu.

Is this Hollywood dumbing down or is there more to Source Code? Our guest reviewer, Hypnogoria's Jim Moon finds out after the jump:

One of the great virtues of genre cinema is that, quite frequently, little films that amaze us all pop up out of nowhere. Duncan Jones’ first feature Moon was such a film; an elegantly crafted slice of intelligent sci-fi that that masterfully delivered all the tropes you’d expect, such as spacecraft, AIs and robots, but integrated them all into a story brimming with character and humanity.

Of course, as any student of pop culture knows, creating such an instant classic with your debut doesn’t necessarily mean a glittering oeuvre of similar high quality works will follow. However, in the case of Moon, the film’s quality appeared to stem more from polished craft and finely honed skills than synchronicity and blind luck; and so, I had higher than usual hopes for his second feature.

Contrary to my usual practice, I avoided the trailer and sundry other promotional fripperies; partly as the trailer for Moon had given slightly too much away for the seasoned genre fiction fan, familiar with a thousand surprise plot twists, but mainly because all I needed to know was that it was another Duncan Jones film. Now having seen Source Code, I thoroughly recommend taking this approach yourself.

As the movie begins with Jake Gyllenhaal awakening on a train with no memory of how he got there, it’s a lot of fun to go in sharing his ignorance and discovering the specifics of the narrative as he does. However, if you have seen the trailer, I would stress that this particular promo does the movie something of a dis-service, making it appear as a conventional Hollywood action flick that merely flirts with sci-fi, much like Tony Scott’s Déjà Vu or John Woo's Paycheck.

Thankfully, Source Code is none of the above, and while it might not be packed with the lunar landscapes loving rendered in old school model work and feature talking computers and robotic drones as did Moon, rest assured it is still bona fida science fiction. More importantly, although the screenplay was not penned by Jones himself, Source Code is a fitting companion piece to Moon, exploring similar themes of isolation, identity and human relationships strained in the tangles of future technology. 

Also, like its predecessor, Source Code is a movie with many a plot twist up its sleeve, which makes it a bit of a sod to review without giving away any spoilers. What I can safely tell you is that, like Moon, this isn’t a film that lives or dies on the impact of these surprise reveals. Indeed if you are familiar with a lot of sci-fi, or just even well-versed in the tropes of the cinema, you will probably guess some of the plot developments ahead of the curve, and you’ll almost certainly correctly anticipate the ending. Still, this is not a problem, as the ultimate resolution it delivers is exactly what you want for the characters; a case of hopes fulfilled rather than disappointed by predictable outcomes.

For aside from a neat science fiction conceit to power the plot and stimulate the imagination, the very human heart of the film draws you in. You really care about these characters and are fully invested in seeing their fates play out.

Gyllenhaal's character isn’t your average thriller hero; he’s uncertain, confused and vulnerable, never acting with the usual brash bravado of action leads. Rather he falters and stumbles just as we would if we were placed in his situation, winning our sympathy and in turn immersing us in the action.

The main characters in Source Code come across as real people rather than stereotypical cyphers; Gyllenhaal is on fine form here and there’s real chemistry and crackling dramatic tension between him and his equally-excellent costars Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga. Jones is a director who brings the best out of his actors, and it’s nice to see him proving that he can work just as effectively with a larger cast. 

Source Code also showcases his immense talent for story telling. Just as Moon harked back to the 70s heyday of smart sci-fi, this second feature will no doubt remind many viewers of films from Hollywood’s Golden Age; but this is not just an exercise in retro-movie making, rather it is drawing on the strengths of cinema past. Instead of oceans of CGI, needless jump cuts, endless crash zooms and a tediously-trendy pounding rock score. Here we have a smooth narrative, shorn of unnecessary exposition, executed with perfectly-pitched pacing and a focus on character rather than gaudy explosions and FX driven set pieces. In an age where too many films won’t credit an audience with having an attention span greater than a goldfish, never mind a modicum of brains, it’s a real pleasure to watch a movie unfold and tell a rewarding story in a satisfying manner.

I came out of the cinema with the same full and contented feeling you get after a really excellent meal; but as well as being something of a cinematic feast, Source Code has an added bonus. Although the ending resolves the plot in a satisfying manner, when you start considering the conclusion, there’s a host of intriguing implications to be debated. If you enjoyed unravelling the intricacies of last year’s Inception, then you’ll have similar fun playing with different interpretations of the conclusion of Source Code.

While Source Code may not be heralded as a cinematic event picture or as hyped as the big tent-pole blockbusters, it will certainly be high in the end of year lists. Overall this is two for two for Duncan Jones, seeing him spread his wings after an auspicious debut, and I can’t wait to see what delights he delivers next.

Today's post was written by Jim Moon, the macabre host of the Hypnobobs podcast and webmaster at Hypnogoria. For considered diatribes on the history of horror or dramatic readings of the darkest stories around, head on over. 

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