Clever Premise Dumbed Down in Source Code
- Friday, April 01, 2011
DVD Release Date: July 26, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: April 2, 2011
Rating: PG-13 (for some violence including disturbing images, and for language)
Genre: Action-Drama, Thriller
Run Time: 89 min.
Director: Duncan Jones
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright
There’s a great deal of ambition on display in Source Code—conceptually, thematically, cinematically—that’s undercut by an unfortunate lack of faith in us, the audience, either in our level of patience or intelligence (or both). Recent box office trends may lead to that cynicism; regardless, this clever premise is progressively dumbed down.
Complex narrative layers and multiple realities pose tough ethical questions, but it’s all delivered in a mass appeal crowd pleaser that’s far too trite for its initial provocations. The end result isn’t a disaster by any stretch, but the Hollywood-style compromises neuter a potent idea into near-emasculation.
A big, brassy music score sets the tone, giving the instant feel of a classic thriller in the Hitchcockian mold. That’s no coincidence; what follows clearly aspires to such heights, and after the first five minutes you actually think the film might reach them.
Enough happens to suggest you won’t be able to predict where all of this is going, and you’ll likely have to stay on your proverbial toes just to keep up. That level of engagement is exciting … which makes subsequent exposition-laden scenes all the more tiresome.
Jake Gyllenhaal (Prince of Persia) plays Colter Stevens, a man who wakes up in a haze on a Chicago commuter train not recognizing his surroundings or how he got there. Despite this disorientation, people recognize him—like the attractive brunette Christina (Michelle Monaghan, Due Date) who sits on, and flirts from, an adjacent seat. It’s not the worst hallucination in the world, mind you. Well, until the train explodes and everyone dies.
Except for Colter, that is. He wakes up again, but this time in a recognizable context: as a U.S. soldier in the cockpit of a crashed fighter jet. This is his last known memory. A frantic effort to make contact with someone is answered by Officer Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air) who is stationed back in the States.
Colter quickly learns that, instead of being rescued, he must play rescuer to millions of Chicagoans who are under threat of a second terrorist bombing. How? By planting a memory (the titular “source code”) from the mind of a victim in the original exploded train into Colter’s brain by means of a new governmental test program.
He plays and replays interactively through this memory, trying to unravel the mystery of who planted the first bomb before the second is detonated. Each pass leads to new information and a step closer to the truth. This premise is the very definition of high concept yet actually plays to lower, more common denominators.
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