“SOURCE CODE” (2011) Review

“SOURCE CODE” (2011) Review

It is a miracle that I ever got the chance to see the new techno-thriller, “SOURCE CODE”. It is a miracle . . . at least to me, because I never saw a movie trailer or read an article about it before the eve of its release. I would have ignored it completely if I had not noticed several billboards advertising the movie throughout the city. And since the movie featured actors I happened to admire, I decided to go see it. 

Directed by Duncan Jones and written by Ben Ripley, “SOURCE CODE” is about a decorated army helicopter pilot named Colter Stevens, who finds himself on a mission to locate the maker of a bomb that exploded and destroyed a train headed into downtown Chicago. Stevens is isolated inside a chamber, where he communicates with Air Force Captain Colleen Goodwin. She explains to Stevens via a computer screen that he is inside the Source Code, a program that allows him to take over someone’s body in his or her last eight minutes of life. He learns from the program’s creator, Dr. Rutledge that the Source Code is not a simulation, but a visit into the past in the form of an alternative reality. Stevens cannot truly alter the past to save any of the passengers, but that he must gather intelligence that can be used to alter the future and prevent a future attack. In short, Steven’s mission is to locate the bomb on the train, discover who had built it and report back to Goodwin and Dr. Rutledge before the bomber can detonate a second larger bomb, a dirty nuclear device in Chicago.

While watching the movie’s first half hour, I had assumed that the psychic essence of the Colter Stevens’ character was being sent back into the past to change the timeline and prevent the destruction of the train. I thought that this was some kind of cinematic version of the old UPN television series, “SEVEN DAYS” (1998-2001). But Stevens eventually discovered how he got the assignment to identify the bomber. Confused and frustrated, he used the cell phone of a train passenger and discovered that he had supposedly died in the Afghanistan war two months earlier and that his severely injured body was appropriated by the Air Force and used by Dr. Rutledge to enter the Source Code. When that plot twist was revealed, I realized that “SOURCE CODE” might have more in common with both the U.K. and U.S. versions of“LIFE ON MARS”.

“SOURCE CODE” was not a hit. Although the movie earned three times the amount of its budget, it really did not earn that much at the box office, despite favorable reviews from critics. Pity. Because I believe that it was a well made film. I also have to give kudos to Don Burgess for his supervision of the movie’s visual effects, including his photography of Montreal and Chicago. I was especially impressed at how he and his crew handled a particular scene in which the Stevens character exchanged romantic glances with one of the train’s passengers, a woman named Christina Warren, while the train was being incinerated by the terrorist’s bomb.

Director Duncan Jones did justice to Ben Ripley’s first-rate script with excellent pacing and action sequences. And using the superb cast led by Jake Gyllenhaal, he handled the dramatic scenes very well. Jones managed to do a great job in balancing both the dramatic and actions sequences. But what really made “SOURCE CODE” very appealing to me was Ben Ripley’s screenplay. I cannot help but admire how he paced each big revelation in the movie’s story without rushing or bringing it to a slow crawl. And as I had watched the movie reached its finale, it occurred to me that “SOURCE CODE”ended on a note that I believe that the U.S. version of “LIFE ON MARS” should have. I found the whole experience very satisfying.

Earlier, I had commented on the superb acting in the “SOURCE CODE”. And I still maintain that belief. Although the movie featured solid acting by the supporting cast, it was the four main leads that shined . . . at least in my opinion. Jake Gyllenhaal did a marvelous job in his portrayal of Coulter Stevens, the military helicopter pilot that found himself a part of a government program that he never signed for. Gyllenhaal perfectly conveyed his character’s initial confusion, growing awareness of the Source Code program, his growing affection toward the Christina Warren character. And the actor managed to pull all of these acting chops and remain a very effective action hero. Both Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright as Colleen Goodwin and Dr. Rutledge respectively, took me by surprise. Literally. Farmiga’s Captain Goodwin started out as a cool professional that utilized a brusque manner to ensure the completion of Stevens’ mission. But the actress did an excellent job in conveying her character’s growing attachment and compassion toward the doomed helicopter pilot. Wright’s Dr. Rutledge followed a reverse path. When his character was first introduced, I was left with the impression of a slightly nervous and shy man who was determined to save Chicago. But as the movie progressed, Wright slowly, but effectively pulled back the layers of his character to reveal a man, whose obsession with his creation had eroded a great deal of humanity from his personality. Behind the shy and nervous man was a ruthless being that lacked any compassion whatsoever. Watching Wright perform, it occurred to me that he has become a true chameleon, capable of getting under the skin of any character. Michelle Monaghan’s portrayal of the passenger Christina Warren seemed to lack the complexity of the other three major characters. But I must admit that she did a great job in portraying her character as a warm and vibrant personality. One could not label her character as a “damsel-in-distress”. After all, her character had died before the movie’s first reel. But it finally occurred to me that instead of the damsel, Monaghan’s Christina Warren served as Coulter Steven’s emotional center.

Did “SOURCE CODE” have any flaws? Well . . . I realize that I had commented on the supporting cast’s “solid” action. And I stand by my word. However, not all of them were perfect. There were a few characters among the train’s passengers that struck me as a tad over-the-top. If the movie had any other flaws, I did not notice. I was too busy being intrigued and entertained by Ben Ripley’s first-rate story, Duncan Jones’ direction and the superb acting by the movie’s four leads. It is a pity that the movie failed to become a major hit, despite earning a profit. I still believe that it had deserved to become one.

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