Source Code - 30th April 2011

There was a lot of talk last year, when Inception came out about it finally proving that you didn't have to be brain dead or a sequel to be a big Hollywood blockbuster.
Well, as I have said before, I am not sure Inception was quite as intelligent as everyone gave it credit for but in the first half of the year we have already had The Adjustment Bureau and now Source Code, both of which seem to come hot on Inception's tale dealing as they do with questions about what is real or not and alternate realities.
That is by no means to say that Source Code is an Inception clone or rip off, merely to imply that it is part of the first wave of more intelligent yet no less entertaining sci-fi thrillers to grace the silver screen since Inception's success.

Source Code's plot initially reads and actually plays like a really good Quantum Leap episode via Groundhog Day, but if Sam Beckett was played by someone with actual charisma or if Bill Murray had to stop lots of people from dying instead of convince Andie McDowell to love him.
It's about a soldier, Jake Gyllenhaal, who is part of some new technology which, just like Quantum Leap (complete with reflections in the mirror different to that of Gyllenhaal), allows him to be repeatedly dropped into the body of another man, for a small and set period of time, who is on a train, bound for Chicago, with a bomb on it. Gyllenhaal's task and he seems to have no choice in the matter whether he accepts it or not, is to, in this limited time period, find out where the bomb is and who planted it. The film then basically takes you through all the logical scenarios one might go through if actually in that situation and does so in such a way that, despite the repeated setting and conversations, it never gets tired.
It is also half way through the film when you suddenly realise the catch and the fact that the real mystery is where is Gyllenhaal's soldier really and what is actually going on.

The first thing I would say is how good Jake Gyllenhaal is in this movie. The last thing I saw him in was Love and Other Smugs and that was so bowel shatteringly awful I am not sure, with hindsight, how I made it through to the end without being sick but in Source Code he gives a believable, if occasionally overly earnest portrayal of exactly what you'd expect someone to go through if such a situation ever presented itself: disbelief, fear and, refreshingly, some humour.
Even the slightly unnecessary emotional journey that he goes on through the course of the film, to do with his father, is handled in a slightly more subtle way than usual and the whole film, pleasingly, has less heroics and more actual thought and detection in it. Which is odd because the marketing made it look like a stupid action film the likes of which Nic Cage would be better suited to, when in reality it is a proper, almost old fashioned slice of well realised science fiction.

So it was well written and very competently directed by Bowie Jnr, Duncan Jones, with nothing particularly flashy about any of it, just successfully performing the very difficult task of taking several strands of storyline, which take place over two very different and separate places in time, in what could of been a confusing and complex structure and making it all seem coherent, realistic, plausible and understandable. No mean feet, all things considered.

There were two aspects of the film that took a little bit of a Hollywood liberty and that had to do with the female leads in both sections of his story.
In the present world, Gyllenhaal is talked through his mission by a female military officer played by Vera Farmiga and, without giving too much away (MINOR SPOILER ALERT), it is a bit of a stretch of the imagination, that in the short time she has been working with him, he would be able to win over a trained soldier like her to put her job on the line for him like she does.
The same can be said for the Michelle Monaghan character in the past world, in the sense that, seeing as she only really gets to spend eight minutes total with the Gyllenhaal possessed version of her friend, that they end up where they do is a bit of a leap even if she was always leaning in that direction with her actual friend in the first place.
However, both the women perform their, little bit thankless, roles very well and sell, to the best of their abilities, the slightly tall order of the story.

A special mention goes to Jeffrey Wright who plays Dr.Rutledge, he is the head of and inventor of the project that is currently using Gyllenhaal, and he plays the part of a slightly fastidious, nerdy old man with a limp and slightly dubious morals with such relish that it is an absolute pleasure to watch.
It's rare these days that actors are asked or given the free reign to play parts a little slightly over the top, with maybe a funny voice or a quirky tic and when the best of them do, I could watch it all day.

It's difficult to discuss the film further without giving too much away, things like this really are better watched knowing as little as possible and I do urge you to go see it as I thought it was an engaging and enjoyable sci-fi romp with a little bit of naval gazing existentialism thrown in for good measure.
Out of the three so-called intelligent sci-fi thrillers that I spoke about at the beginning of the review, personally, I liked this one the best and would definitely watch it again.

8 out of 10

Masters of the Universe - 1st May 2011

Rabies/Kalevet - 27th April 2011 - The After Movie Diner goes to the Tribeca Film Festival!