dir. Duncan Jones
Release Date: Apr 01, 11
Stupid Matrix. Ever since the Wachowskis’ 1999 opus, action sci-fi has gotten all smart and stuff. Schwarzenegger deciding to get into politics didn’t help either. To be fair, he did star in the Terminator series, one of the smartest action sci-fi franchises of all time, and Total Recall, which also has some pretty heavy stuff in it. But then again, it’s hard not to miss big, dumb, bloody messes like Predator. Now there’s a movie without any stupid philosophy to mess things up. But if last summer’s Inception showed us anything, it’s that action sci-fi with philosophy isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The latest film in this now-prolific genre is Source Code.
As opposed to director Duncan Jones’ first movie, Moon, Source Code is undoubtedly action sci-fi, as opposed to just straight up sci-fi. To clarify the difference, action sci-fi is infused with a lot more action (duh), whereas straight up sci-fi usually contains less explosions and more plotting. However, both films that Mr. Jones has now completed have a hard philosophical bent. Like with Moon, Jones uses Source Code as a way to examine how related one’s physical reality really is to their ultimate identity. Moon is far more pensive than Source Code, and relies much more on atmosphere and mood than elaborate action sequences. But make no mistake, Jones is working in familiar territory.
The film’s plot draws from a little bit of everything. Source Code is about a soldier (Jake Gyllenhaal) who relives the same eight minute train ride over and over again in the hope of preventing a terrorist attack. Some of the film’s moments feel downright Hitchcockian, and why shouldn’t they? It’s only natural for Source Code to take from something like Strangers on a Train, considering the setting. Of course the repeated tension is akin to something like The Hurt Locker. And the framing device is just a shorter version of the Groundhog Day formula. But always, there’s the philosophical element to the film, like our old favorites The Matrix and Inception.
All this said, despite myriad influences, Source Code doesn’t feel unoriginal. A good cast helps, with Gyllenhaal and supporting players Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga and Jeffery Wright also turning in solid performances. However, these are all fairly consistent actors, and the guy who really deserves the most praise is Jones. David Bowie Jr. proves definitively here that he’s a good director; he can handle something subtle, small, and character-driven like Moon, and he has the technical chops to deliver the thrills in an action-packed flick like Source Code. Famous dad or not, this guy is soon going to be known for his work, not for his family.
Source Code does lag a little in the middle (unsurprising, considering the premise) and the end feels more than a bit heavy-handed. These are frequent traps of the action sci-fi genre, along with convoluted and not always logical science used as long, sometimes tedious exposition. Sadly, this is another sin Source Code is guilty of. Several of the effects are also not quit up to par, as if the filmmakers were just short of the budget they really needed. But because of Jones’ skilled hand, there isn’t a bad shot in the entire film, even in the face of just a few questionable production values. In fact, some shots aren’t just good, they’re downright beautiful. Once again, Jones isn’t messing around; this guy knows what he’s doing.
Source Code is a fun movie, but more than that, it’s a smart movie. It’s no Inception, but it’s yet another film that proves action sci-fi can be a place for discussion on the essence of humanity. Sure, there are a lot of explosions, but there’s also a dialogue going on about the physical versus the metaphysical. Try to catch that in between all the stuff blowing up.