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Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Source Code

Directed by: Duncan Jones

Produced by: Mark Gordon
Jordan Wynn
Philippe Rousselet

Screenplay by: Ben Ripley

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal
Michelle Monaghan
Vera Farmiga
Jeffrey Wright

Music by: Chris P. Bacon

Cinematography by: Don Burgess

Editing by: Paul Hirsch

Studio(s): The Mark Gordon Company
Vendome Pictures

Distributed by: Summit Entertainment

Release date(s): April 1, 2011 (United States/United Kingdom)
April 20, 2011 (France)

Running time: 90 minutes

Country(s): United States

Production budget: $32 million

Box office revenue: $123, 278, 618

The ball is still rolling, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a little bit of drowziness (damn American English is confusing me, so excuse the typo if there is one!). However, I have been busy, having now seen Sucker Punch and The Iron Lady. Also, Senna is today's itinerary, and while of course Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol, The Artist and The Descendants are more or less guaranteed for review, expect some others in the coming week or two. So, as ever, keep your eyes posted!

Alright, so Source Code is the new film by Duncan Jones, who first became a director to watch in the wake of his first picture, 2009's great science-fiction film Moon, starring Sam Rockwell. That film really put him on the map, as Moon, along with other such notables as District 9, Avatar and Inception, are science-fiction films of ideas as opposed to explosions. With his sophomore film Source Code, Jones returns to the science-fiction genre, but applies his aesthetic to Ben Ripley's central concept. Incidentally, I knew nothing about the plot going in, and that is part of the pleasure of the story, as everything is gradually unveiled, so if you, like me, are priggish about plot, SKIP TO THE END OF THE PARAGRAPH: Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a train opposite Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan, a woman who apparently knows him, but he has never seen her in his life. Eight minutes later, the train explodes, and Stevens wakes up in an unfamiliar cockpit. Over a PA/screen, Air Force Captain Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) tells Stevens that he is part of the 'Source Code,' a military project created by Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) so that he can enter an alternate timeline of the last eight minutes of someone's life on the train. His mission is to identify the bomber on the train by going over the same eight minutes, so as to prevent other terrorist attacks.

To start off with the good about Source Code, I must discuss Ben Ripley's script. Now, in the past we have seen different versions of the 'Groundhog Day' concept fail because it all gets repetitive very quickly. With Source Code, this is not the case, for it has a strong narrative backbone and clear structure that has been well-thought out. It is a reflection of the multiple scenarios that the protagonist is going through, with certain consistencies but as many differences. Also, Duncan Jones, working for the first time without his own script, flourishes from a directorial standpoint. Far from letting the film degenerate into sci-fi gimmickry, he maintains control of a project that in many other directors' hands could have been mishandled. Furthermore, he grounds the film in reality, so no matter how far fetched the concept is, we still buy it as legitimate. He is one director with a fine future ahead of him, fast becoming an auteur that can be genuinely trusted not to get lost in his indulgences, and along with Moon, his work is about as good one could ask on the basis of his relatively short career. Also, technically this is a remarkable film. Don Burgess' cinematography is highly inventive and borderline experimental in the way he shoots from angles which we would not normally think of. Importantly though, he too has control over himself, and his work first and foremost tells a story. Also, Paul Hirsch's editing is vital to the audience buying the film's story and concept. The whole ninety-minutes of the film is a thrill-ride, and Hirsch's editing is seamless, without any flab whatsoever. With the way the story is revealed, piece by piece, Hirsch's editing lets us get into the confused mind of Colter Stevens. This effect was so unnerving that I actually thought I was feeling sick, but the fact was that I was simply as confused as the film's protagonist, bouncing between various forms of consciousness and reality. While the script's structure gives this feeling a backbone, ultimately it is Hirsch's editing that visually creates this effect. I could go on and on about the visual effects and production design (which are certainly on shortlists for my upcoming awards presentation), but I want to get down to the acting. Interestingly, for a movie that has been shamefully dismissed come awards season, lead actor Jake Gyllenhaal is as good here as he ever has been. He imbeds the character of Colter Stevens with a genuine sense of warmth and reality. Also, it is one of those performances from a naturally gifted actor, never once chewing up the scenery, instead making Stevens come across as a real human being. Furthermore, I credit the humanity and respect he gives the part the main reason (I'm not kidding) I found myself on the verge of tears towards the end of the film, more of which in a bit. Also good, despite being saddled with less than perfect parts, were Michelle Monaghan, an actress whose work has been of varying quality in the past but is very charming here, and Vera Farmiga, who brings gravitas to the film's 'morally conflicted' character. Finally, as I mentioned, I was near the point of tears, because ultimately this is a film that does have ideas and messages to take away from it, carrying a powerful punch that hit home hard for this reviewer.

That said, for all that I liked about Source Code, there are a number of problems. For starters, Chris P. Bacon's score towards the end of the film becomes one of those really overt 'tell, tell tell!' kind of scores that is designed to reinforce the emotions that the audience is supposed to be feeling. I already was feeling these emotions, and as such, to have the Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra tease an appearance was an unpleasant surprise. Also, as much as I think Ben Ripley's script is masterful in terms of concept and narrative structure, I think in terms of the characterisation it falters. Regardless of the strong performances from those mentioned, the characters do still come across as cogs inside a mechanical structure. There is a serious lack of three-dimensional quality to them, especially when it comes to Michael Arden's character (who, incidentally, I picked out in the first sequence! Big ups for me!), and it is really only through the strength of the actors that they are salvaged.

Regardless of these problems, I do feel that Source Code is still one of the best films of the year. Ben Ripley's script has a solid narrative structure, while Duncan Jones once again shows his finesse and control as a director. Also, technically, in the editing, visual effects, cinematography and production design departments, the film flourishes. Finally, with strong actors in Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga and a terrific central performance in Jake Gyllenhaal, we get, in Source Code, one of the year's finest films.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Good (update: I've got a significant amount of films just in. Believe me, I have work to do, so if it comes down to it, capsule reviews might have to suffice)

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